Friday, July 11, 2003

ACM Queue - Content: Jim Gray interview

ACM Queue - Content: Jim Gray interview
"DP What do you think is happening with databases in terms of open source? What is the Linux of databases?
JG I think it's exciting. Very small teams built the early database systems. A small team at Oracle built the original Oracle, and there were small teams at Informix, Ingress, Sybase, and IBM.
Twenty-five people can do a pretty full-blown system, and ship it, and support it, and get manuals written, and test it. The Postgress and MySQL teams are on that scale and likely represent the leading open-source DBMSes out there. Maybe the teams are getting larger at this point. A few years ago the DBMSes lacked transactions, optimization, replication, and lots of other cool features, but they are adding these features now.
The lack of a common code base is one of the things that has held back the database community and has been a huge advantage for the operating systems community. The academic world has had a common operating system that everybody can talk about and experiment with.
It has the downside of creating a mob culture. But the positive side is everybody has a common language and a common set of problems they are working on. Having MySQL as a common research vehicle is going to accelerate progress in database research. People can do experiments and compare one optimizer against another optimizer. Right now, it is very difficult for one research group to benefit from the work of others.
The flip side is this: What does this mean for the database industry as a whole? What does this mean for Oracle and Microsoft and DB2 and whoever else wants to make a database system?
So far, MySQL is very primitive and very simple. It will add features, and the real question is, can it evolve to be competitive with Oracle, Microsoft, and DB2?
Those companies spend a huge amount of energy on quality control, support, documentation, and a bunch of things that are thinner in the open-source community. But it could be that some company will step forward and will displace the incumbent database vendors.
The challenge is similar to the challenge we see in the OS space. My buddies are being killed by supporting all the Linux variants. It is hard to build a product on top of Linux because every other user compiles his own kernel and there are many different species. The main hope for Oracle, DB2, and SQLserver is that the open-source community will continue to fragment. Human nature being what it is, I think Oracle is safe.
DP Is trying to be the Red Hat of MySQL?
JG It could be that they will step forward and provide all of those things that IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle provided, and do it for a much lower price. I think the incumbent vendors will have to be innovative to make their products more attractive.
One thing that works in the incumbents' favor is fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). If you base your company on a database, you are risking a lot. You want to buy the best one. People are usually pretty cautious about where they want to put their data. They want to know that it's going to have a disaster recovery plan, replication, good code quality, and in particular, lots and lots and lots of testing.
The thing that slows Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft down is the testing, and making sure they don't break anything—supporting the legacy. I don't know if the MySQL community has the same focus on that.
At some point, somebody will say, "I'm running my company on MySQL." Indeed, I wish I could hear Scott McNealy [CEO of Sun Microsystems] tell that to Larry Ellison [CEO of Oracle].
DP The whole corporation?
JG Right. Larry Ellison announced that Oracle is now running entirely on Linux. But he didn't say, "Incidentally we're going to run all of Oracle on MySQL on Linux." If you just connected the dots, that would be the next sentence in the paragraph. But he didn't say that, so I believe that Larry actually thinks Oracle will have a lot more value than MySQL has. I do not understand why he thinks the Linux problems are fixable and the MySQL problems are not."

Fascinating interview -- read the full transcript; via Tim Bray

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