The open source database company MariaDB is aggressively courting Oracle customers, offering more portability and ease of migration to help enterprises make the switch.
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.
Michael Howard, who worked at Oracle for four years between 1996-2000, has been CEO of MariaDB since December 2015.
Speaking on stage at MariaDB's M18 user conference in New York last week, Howard acknowledged his experience in the proprietary technology world, and admitted that "it's hard to change. Resistance is everywhere, inside or outside the organisation. The very complexity of migrating, the physical reality of them, the mastering of skills, the establishment of processes and the fear of mystery of the unknown."
"If you do not change, you will be beholden to a company who doesn't have your best interests in mind. I know this, I was there. You will pay 10 times more for that privilege," he said.
Speaking to Computerworld UK, Howard added: "When we're talking to Oracle customers, they've already made the decision to switch. We don't go into a customer site to compete mano-a-mano on features; rather, there is a predisposition to change, and it usually begins with decisions regarding infrastructure, which for the most part, are based on open source or commodity technologies.
"For us, there are two important parts of the Oracle marketplace – the MySQL base and the Oracle Enterprise base. Typically, Oracle customers transition from MySQL to MariaDB first then they start addressing their proprietary and more complex environments as the conversation continues."
He does, however, admit that certain customers still have doubts about open source.
"There is always skepticism when a company has never used open source, although that is more of an exception than a rule these days," he said. "If you were to partition the world into those that embrace open source and those that are skeptical about it – it's probably somewhere in the 95 percent range that wholeheartedly embrace it.
"For those companies, there are new things to be learned such as contracts that are different from proprietary models and the way in which companies relate to one another, which is collaborative versus being dictated to."
MariaDB has recently been buoyed by a $54 million funding round which included Alibaba and the European Investment Bank.
Howard said during his keynote: "With these resources comes bigger expectations, we have to make it easier for global enterprises to be able to easily change and migrate."
Ease of migration to MariaDB will always be a vital part of the company's plans for growth, but Howard also spoke about "creating momentum" and "solving hard problems". That last point links nicely with the announcement the company made on Monday that it was investing in a new set of labs with the aim of solving some of the industry's hardest problems.
Read next: MariaDB launches innovation labs
Speaking about the latest release of MariaDB Server, version 10.3, Howard said it is vital the company continues to provide "portability and familiarity in terms of code, but also portability and familiarity in terms of skill sets."
Channelling his inner Alanis Morissette, he added: "Isn't it ironic that MariaDB is offering an Oracle compatibility layer when MySQL, a part of Oracle, doesn't?
"Isn't it ironic that Oracle Enterprise, MySQL's bigger brother, provides data warehousing yet it is MariaDB that is delivering it to you, this community? They don't want you to succeed with MySQL, they certainly don't want MySQL to cannibalise things like Exadata."
Oracle, for its part, is focusing on machine learning and automation to help it hold off these new open source competitors. The company announced a new 'self-driving' database at its OpenWorld conference late last year, promising the "world's first autonomous database".
Howard isn't concerned though. "It's going to be more difficult for Oracle to fulfill the requirements of an autonomous database due to the severe complexity of the Oracle environment," he said. "An autonomous database cannot exist if there are literally thousands of bugs that exist and even if the most qualified people have a hard time using it.
"I adore the notion of an autonomous database and I truly believe that MariaDB has a much better place to start than Oracle to live up to that expectation."
What the customers say
Howard spoke about how the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) has been "forklifting out Oracle Enterprise and moving transactional environments to MariaDB and they were the ones who collaborated and motivated us to build an Oracle compatibility layer."
The bank has already moved 54 percent of critical applications to MariaDB and wants to run primarily on MariaDB by the middle of 2019. The bank is set to save $4.1 million in net savings over five years after initial investment by moving to the open source rival.
When Computerworld UK spoke to Peng Khim, head of technology and digital innovation at DBS, he explained that the bank had tried to move to a more scalable version of Oracle Enterprise but that it "doesn't work" due to the development effort required and cost constraints of licences.
Similarly, US financial services company Financial Network spoke at M18 about the limitations of Oracle RAC for smaller, fast-growing organisations.
William Wood, director of database architecture at Financial Network, said: "Your Oracle licence is based by processor. That's not very scalable from an economic, fiscal standpoint."
"We can't afford to upgrade hardware because we go from a quad-core processor to the latest and greatest that has 96 cores in a single CPU," he said. "Can you imagine the cost of that at $47,500 per core? That is a big chunk of money.
"It's astronomical just to get that licence. Then once you're licensed you're hit every year after for support and if you want to expand then you're hit with more licensing, and some very interesting sales strategies.
"We are a small company, if we had to keep investing in Oracle we would eventually probably go out of business."