MariaDB CEO talks open source, Oracle and Amazon lock-in and IPO plans

We sat down with the CEO of the open source database vendor about changing attitudes towards open source, how his company is the heir apparent to Oracle and future IPO plans

Credit: MariaDB

Open source database specialist MariaDB is continuing its assault on the market leader Oracle, but is also setting its sights on the increasingly powerful cloud vendors.

CEO Michael Howard - who worked at Oracle for four years between 1996-2000, before he joined MariaDB in December 2015 - sat down with Computerworld UK to talk about becoming the "heir apparent" to Oracle, developing an autonomous database and its three-year plan to go public.

MariaDB was created by some of the original developers of the MySQL relational database, including Michael "Monty" Widenius, who jumped ship after MySQL was acquired by Oracle. It has always been developed as an open source 'drop in' replacement for MySQL.

Speaking on stage during the vendor's flagship OpenWorks event in New York yesterday, Howard did some back of the napkin maths to show that open source companies and technology had a monumental year in 2018, highlighting the $34 billion IBM acquisition of open source Linux company Red Hat and the recent IPOs of MongoDB and Elastic.

"In 2018 alone there was $107 billion worth of open source outcomes," he estimated. "Community-driven technology has made its mark on Wall Street, it is a force to be reckoned with, there is a tipping point going on and companies like MariaDB can look forward to building great organisations and great products for the global markets.

"When I was fundraising for MariaDB just a few years ago I consistently confronted investor resistance to the viability of open source business models, not any more though, open source has arrived."

He went on the attack the big proprietary cloud vendors for "the strip-mining of open source technologies and companies, especially by large cloud vendors, you know who they are," he said. "Just really abusing the licence and abusing privilege, not giving back to the community, forcing some companies to have what I will call awkward and weak responses. You have to be strong and have a strong conviction of your open source business model."

Oracle rivalry

Speaking to Computerworld UK later that day, Howard further explained his views on the big cloud vendors.

"Oracle as the example of on-premise lock-in and Amazon being the example of cloud lock-in. You could interchange the names, you can honestly say now that Amazon should just be called Oracle Prime, they have gone so aggressive," he quipped.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on whose position you want to take, it's all good for MariaDB because we can act as consumer protection. We are going to protect the brand quality and technical quality of our product no matter where it sits."

Oracle was certainly the bad guy at last year's OpenWorks event, with Howard focused on getting more customers to migrate from Oracle Enterprise. That being said, he was still surprised to learn that MariaDB already has "five times the number of Oracle enterprise migrations" lined up in the first two months of this year compared to the entirety of 2018.

"There are a couple of nuances there," he said, "I'm not sure I was convinced that you would have people forklift Oracle applications onto MariaDB.

"I was well meaning and I meant it when we built an Oracle compatibility layer which came into production last May, so it all was real, there was no exaggeration when it came to the technology, but I wasn't convinced that people were actually going to do that. I wanted people to know it was there, and we had some customers that did it, but I thought it would be more of a skill-set migration and that they would keep workloads on Oracle but make MariaDB my standard relational database."

Now he speaks about making MariaDB the 'heir apparent' to Oracle, even including a checklist (below) of what needs to be achieved to be that 'drop-in' replacement for the market-leading database.

"We believe that proprietary and closed licences are dead," he said. "We believe you have to be a general-purpose database and not a relegated niche one, like - and nothing against it - time series. That's not going to be a general purpose database that will drive applications worldwide."

MariaDB also set up a specialised Labs division last year, primarily with the goal of driving a 'self-driving' database to compete with Oracle, which is also heavily invested in this concept.

"I wanted our Labs group to use machine learning to make MariaDB a self-driving database," he said this week. "This is especially important for extreme scale, mission critical, stringent SLA workloads."

As well as these advanced capabilities and a commitment to openness, Howard also highlighted a continued low total cost of ownership (TCO) of MariaDB, and industry-leading scale as important factors in this mission to become the heir apparent to Oracle.

IPO plans?

MariaDB last took funding in November 2017 when it raised a Series C of $27 million led by Alibaba Group, with participation from Intel Capital, California Technology Ventures, Tesi, SmartFin Capital, Open Ocean and the venture fund of one of its leading customers: SaaS IT service management giant ServiceNow. That brought total funding for the year to US$54 million.

Howard says that "we have enough money to organically get to the point we want. So we don't need any more funding unless we do some inorganic [activity] like M&A."

MariaDB is also at a stage of life where rumours of an IPO start to swirl, especially as fellow open source vendors like MongoDB and Elastic have had success doing so in recent years.

Howard says he is "definitely looking at the public life side of things and that is a part of our three-year plan that really kicked off in 2017, so we are really half way through that".

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

More about AmazonElasticEnterpriseIBMIntelIntel CapitalLinuxMySQLOracleRed HatServiceNowTCOTechnologyWall Street

Show Comments