IT Innovation

Open for Business

MySQL community wins with better innovation, support, and integration.

By David A. Kelly

January/February 2011

Sometimes, relatively small things can make a big impact. Take the case of the MySQL database. First released in 1995 and purchased by Sun in 2008, MySQL has quickly graduated from the realm of hobbyists to the world of business, becoming the leading open source database for many Web applications and an integral part of the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) Web application stack. Almost a year after Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, MySQL plays an even bigger role in enterprises of all sizes worldwide.

“I think that MySQL, and all the experimenting that people are doing with it, helps to advance database technology in general,” says Carl Olofson, research vice president of database management and data integration software research at International Data Corporation (IDC). “It’s a type of ‘rising tide that lifts all boats’ phenomenon in which even people in the commercial database world can benefit from products like MySQL that get adopted, adjusted, and extended to work effectively in different problem spaces.”

Olofson goes on to explain that MySQL has become a popular solution across a variety of applications and services with varying business requirements. “A lot of people using MySQL to create Web applications and online services choose to use MySQL because it enables them to scale up their environment in a fairly low-cost way,” says Olofson. “We’re also seeing a lot of companies using MySQL for reporting databases, databases for departmental servers, and databases for business-critical systems.”

When it comes to databases and database applications, Olofson doesn’t necessarily think that there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, he often sees organizations using a combination of database solutions, such as MySQL and Oracle Database. “You’ll frequently see MySQL being used in specialized roles, such as for Web presence, while a company’s back-office systems might be driven by Oracle Database,” says Olofson.

It’s a synergy that’s not lost on Tomas Ulin, vice president of MySQL development at Oracle. “We see the combination of Oracle and MySQL as a win-win, not only for commercial customers but for the entire MySQL community,” says Ulin.

The dedication to MySQL is a strong example of Oracle’s drive to deliver both a complete stack and integrated solutions, Ulin points out, adding that in addition to its open source heritage, MySQL complements Oracle’s traditional enterprise database solutions by targeting scenarios ranging from Web 2.0 and hosting service providers to read-intensive applications and departmental projects.

Enterprise-class MySQL

One person who is winning with the combination of Oracle and MySQL is Jeff Freund, CEO and founding chief technology officer of San Francisco, California–based Clickability, a leader in on-demand, cloud-based Web content management. Clickability’s solution enables companies to deploy sophisticated, dynamic Websites and Web content without investing directly in hardware or IT infrastructure. Freund was one of thousands of MySQL users who attended the MySQL Sunday event at Oracle OpenWorld 2010.

“One of the good things about the MySQL Sunday event at Oracle OpenWorld 2010 was seeing how many Oracle users were showing interest in MySQL,” says Freund. “The inclusion of MySQL Sunday as part of OpenWorld speaks highly of Oracle’s commitment to MySQL in terms of promoting it across their entire customer base. There are places where Oracle Database is the right solution, and there are places where MySQL is the right solution, and the fact that Oracle is acknowledging that is a real sign of maturity.”

Since its founding in 1999, Clickability has grown from a startup company with one customer to an organization that’s currently serving hundreds of Websites managed by thousands of users on a daily basis. “Since we host our customers’ public-facing Websites, we’re a mission-critical component,” says Freund. “That’s why we’re always very focused on reliability, availability, performance, and everything else that goes hand in hand with running a mission-critical infrastructure service for enterprise customers.”

Clickability has built its solution on a technology stack based on Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Java. It has more than 40 MySQL database servers performing multiple functions, from reporting and data aggregation to core transactional processing, deployed in two datacenters. Both datacenters are fully redundant, and Clickability uses MySQL to do real-time data replication between them.

“We moved from a commercial [non-Oracle] enterprise database to MySQL in 2003, and it was a great move for us,” says Freund. “MySQL requires lower overhead to manage and a lower cost for team and support resources, and it just fit much better with our scaling architecture and need to run a SaaS [software-as-a-service] platform.”

In addition, Freund doesn’t have any dedicated DBAs on his operations team. Instead, he’s found that senior-level operations engineers are able, with MySQL certification, to deploy and manage MySQL instances effectively.

“With MySQL it’s easy to find the right skill sets and even experienced people,” he says. “There are great community resources and online documentation. Those really add up to a rapid ramp-up for people to gain experience and expertise in managing MySQL.”

But given Clickability’s business model, bottom-line performance and scalability are perhaps even more important than management of the technology. “From a performance perspective, MySQL is great. We’re actually running MySQL on standard commodity servers, so we have plenty of room to grow when we need to,” says Freund. “It also means that our overall infrastructure management overhead is lower, because it fits in with the standard hardware profile, rather than requiring specialized database servers.”

MySQL on Windows

While companies such as Clickability deploy MySQL databases on LAMP platforms, those aren’t the only options. MySQL is available for many other platforms, from HP-UX to Oracle Solaris and Microsoft Windows. That’s one of the reasons the Bank of Finland chose MySQL as the basis for a versatile Microsoft Windows–based payment and settlement simulator application it developed for use by central bankers and economic experts.

“We’ve been very satisfied with our experience using MySQL on Windows,” says Matti Hellqvist, an economist on the Bank of Finland’s Simulator Development Team. Hellqvist notes that flexibility and ease of use were particularly important criteria, because the bank wanted to encourage broad adoption by economic experts. “MySQL integrated seamlessly into our environment and supported our software development effort well,” Hellqvist adds. “It has also been efficient to use and compatible with both 32- and 64-bit OS environments.”

The simulator application helps experts analyze liquidity needs, risk issues, settlement algorithms, changes in behavioral patterns, and other issues critical to the central bankers and economic experts at the Bank of Finland.

“We selected MySQL in 2003 based on its good track record as an efficient SQL database that had low cost and was usable for both Windows- and Linux-based applications,” says Hellqvist. “The simulator works on large numerical data sets, and it needs capability to handle parallel sets of data as well as large data streams. The data is efficiently organized and handled with MySQL. MySQL represents a very reliable and strong foundation for a computational analysis application like ours and has been a key to the application’s success.”


Location: San Francisco, California
Industry: Technology
Revenue: US$20 million
Employees: 50
Oracle products: MySQL Enterprise Edition, MySQL Enterprise Monitor, MySQL Enterprise Backup, MySQL Query Analyzer

Bank of Finland
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Industry: Financial
Employees: 500
Oracle products: MySQL

Gorilla Nation Media, an Evolve Media Company
Location: Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, with offices worldwide
Industry: Online media marketing
Employees: More than 350
Oracle products: MySQL

In fact, the simulator has been so successful that it has been used by more than 50 central banks worldwide, plus other financial and research institutions for risk analysis, as well as development and research related to payment and settlement systems. An active user community has grown up around it, and the community meets annually for a seminar in Helsinki. The application was also selected as the foundation of the Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross settlement Express Transfer system (TARGET2) simulator, which allows Eurosystem central bankers to do quantitative analysis and simulations of European large-value payment systems.

For Hellqvist, the foundation of MySQL is paying additional benefits beyond simply effectively managing his application’s data. “The relatively low cost of the tool was important to us, as well as the wide support of data analysis tools that can connect to MySQL,” says Hellqvist. “Our analysis and research application showcases the versatility, scalability, and efficiency of the database.”

MySQL for Business Intelligence

MySQL is particularly powerful when it comes to Web applications, but companies are putting the open source database to plenty of other uses as well. Take, for example, the Los Angeles, California–based global online ad sales firm Gorilla Nation Media.

“Gorilla Nation relies on MySQL to power its advertising network business intelligence platform,” says Alex Godelman, chief technology officer for Gorilla Nation. “As a fast-growing company, we need strong technology so we can operate quickly and efficiently. MySQL is truly in a league of its own.”

Gorilla Nation, part of Evolve Media, provides integrated media and promotional programs to Fortune 500 brand advertisers, including clients such as Fox Television, Best Buy, and more. Its customers demand advanced business intelligence (BI) and targeting methods to reach the perfect online audience for their advertising or brand campaigns. Reaching more than 66 million unique visitors per month—as Gorilla Nation does—requires Websites and an IT infrastructure that can scale effectively and efficiently.

That’s why Gorilla Nation chose MySQL as the foundation of its BI platform. The organization has more than 500 servers running MySQL, 20 of which are replicated. Its sites get approximately a quarter-billion page views per month, and MySQL manages more than 1 TB of data for Gorilla Nation while providing near-real-time traffic and advertising campaign performance information to Gorilla Nation’s publishers and advertisers. In addition, Gorilla Nation uses MySQL to capture all the clickstream data and transactions required for back-office accounting and billing functions.

“One of the great beauties of MySQL is that it’s backed by an amazing company like Oracle, which has deep pockets and basically wrote the book on databases,” says Veronika Burnett, manager of database engineering at Gorilla Nation. “Also, unlike other open source databases, MySQL is highly scalable. That allows us to do things in our business that are absolutely critical, such as having the same database running on multiple physical servers in multiple geographic regions and having near-real-time replication.”

Burnett says Gorilla Nation also benefits from MySQL’s management features. “MySQL’s enterprise manager tool allows us to track performance on hundreds of MySQL servers from a single console, which allows one database engineer to be extremely efficient and effective,” she says.

Like other fast-growing companies, Gorilla Nation has to balance the trade-offs between creating an enterprise-class infrastructure to support customer needs reliably and efficiently with the need to scale up quickly, dynamically, and in a cost-effective manner. At the same time, Gorilla Nation needs to keep its eye on the bottom line and avoid large up-front licensing investments. That’s why MySQL has turned out to be such a good choice for Gorilla Nation, according to Godelman.

“All our technical and business requirements were satisfied and exceeded by MySQL,” says Godelman.

A Bright Future

While MySQL continues to power a great many Websites and applications, it’s likely that more and more organizations will deploy MySQL for a wide range of departmental, transactional, and BI–oriented needs as well.

“MySQL is a popular product, and I think its importance is increasing because we’re starting to see all the different ways it’s being used,” says IDC’s Olofson. “It’s also an avenue through which database technologists can experiment, try out things, and distribute them easily because MySQL is so readily available and widespread.”

MySQL 5.5: Enhanced Performance, Availability, and Usability
A key ingredient to the success of MySQL has been the involvement of the open source process and the MySQL community. Oracle continues to provide both a source and a binary release of the MySQL database via the MySQL Community Server, which also includes the InnoDB storage engine. It is still licensed under the GPL, the most widely adopted open source license, so that anyone can continue to use the current versions of MySQL for free, including MySQL 5.5.

MySQL 5.5 provides new enhancements to performance and scalability, availability, and usability across all supported operating systems and architectures. “The initial benchmarks for MySQL 5.5 demonstrating increased throughput and performance, along with the addition of MySQL 5.5’s InnoDB plug-in, enable us to get more throughput performance out of our existing hardware infrastructure,” says Jeff Freund, CEO and founding chief technology officer of Clickability, a San Francisco, California–based company that provides on-demand, cloud-based Web content management. “That’s a big deal for us from both a manageability and financial perspective.”

The addition of MySQL to the Oracle family is paying off for both MySQL and Oracle Database users in a number of ways. “We’ve aligned the MySQL database and the InnoDB storage engine development efforts to improve performance and deliver enhancements earlier and more often on those two technologies,” says Rob Young, technical product manager for the MySQL database at Oracle. “We can also now provide MySQL users and Oracle customers with a unified support experience. The MySQL database is now part of a much larger organization that is committed to investing in its future.”

According to Young, MySQL 5.5 delivers a range of new benefits, including Improved performance and scalability. MySQL 5.5 features significantly improved performance and scalability on all supported platforms and modern architectures. In addition, InnoDB is now the default storage engine and has been optimized to fully leverage the computing power of today’s multithreaded operating systems and multi-CPU/multicore systems.

Improved availability. New semisynchronous replication capabilities improve failover reliability and data integrity.

Improved usability. A range of enhanced diagnostics, administrative changes, and enhanced partitioning features mean developers and administrators can do more with less effort.

“Right off the bat, users will notice that MySQL 5.5 is simply faster on their multicore systems, regardless of the operating system,” says Young. “For example, our read/write benchmarks for MySQL 5.5 on Microsoft Windows running on a 4-CPU dual-core server show an eye-popping 1,500 percent sustained performance gain over the same test run for MySQL 5.1. It’s pretty amazing. It’s a real testimony to the investment and commitment that Oracle is bringing to the product.”

Next Steps

 LEARN more about MySQL

 READ Oracle’s MySQL Blog

 WATCH the MySQL Sunday keynote from Oracle OpenWorld 2010


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Photography byClem Onojeghuo,Unsplash