Marten Mickos joined MySQL AB as CEO in 2001. Under his leadership, the
company has grown from a startup to the second largest open source
company and the fastest-growing database vendor in the world. Prior to
MySQL, Mickos held multi-national CEO and senior executive positions in
his native Finland. He holds a masters of science in technical physics from Helsinki
University of Technology.

  1. Question: How do you make money with an Open Source product?

    Answer: We start by not making money at all— but by making users. The vast
    community of MySQL users and developers is what drives our business.

    Then we sell an enterprise offering to those who need to scale and
    cannot afford to fail. The enterprise offering consists of certified
    binaries, updates and upgrades, automated DBA services, 7×24 error
    resolution, etc. You pay by service level and the number of servers. No
    nonsense, no special math. Enterprise software buyers are tired of
    complex pricing models (per core, per cpu, per power unit, per user, per
    whatever the vendor feels like that day)—models that are still in use
    by the incumbents.

    At MySQL we LOVE users who never pay us money. They are our evangelists.
    No marketing could do for us what a passionate MySQL user does when he
    tells his friends and colleagues about MySQL. Our success is based on
    having millions of evangelists around the world. Of course, they also
    help us develop the product and fix bugs.

    And the few times that they say that they hate MySQL, that helps us too because complaints usually contain some good suggestion for improvement.

  2. Question: What changes in the Open Source community’s attitude have you encountered since you decided “to build a company” around MySQL?

    Answer: Interestingly, MySQL always was a company. When Monty and David
    started it in 1995 they made a commitment to open source and a
    commitment to commercial success at the same time. Monty and David
    didn’t build out the business themselves, but they did set the ambition.

    So we have always been focused on marrying the best of business with the
    best of free and open source software. It is not an easy line to walk,
    but it is highly rewarding. A few times we have erred to one or the
    other side, and then we have corrected our course.

    The great thing is that many open source supporters think it is fine
    that we make money. It makes them proud that open source can penetrate
    the corporate world.

  3. Question: Do you compete head to head with Oracle or do you have different customers?

    Most new companies and new projects within existing companies are
    choosing open source infrastructure such as the LAMP stack. We don’t see
    competition there.

    We focus on the new applications and services that are being built for
    the online world: Web2.0, SaaS, and SOA but also new forms
    of datawarehouses and business apps. Our customers look for reliability,
    performance, scalability, and ease of deployment. They don’t look for
    overly complex products that take days or weeks to get going and cost

    That’s why YouTube, Craigslist, Flickr, Habbo Hotel, LiveJournal,
    Technorati, Second Life, Trulia, FeedBurner, and Right Now are our
    customers and not Oracle’s. We believe the market we have chosen is the
    fastest growing part of the DBMS market.

  4. Question: What’s the biggest MySQL DB?

    That’s like asking what’s the biggest Ferrari! What counts is
    performance and scalability. Omniture runs over 250 billion transactions
    per quarter on a farm of MySQL servers. Google uses MySQL for AdSense
    and AdWords. Other large installations include Wikipedia, Travelocity,, etc. The databases can be hundreds of gigabytes. Sites run
    on hundreds of servers, some on thousands.

  5. Question: What’s the weirdest use of MySQL?

    I wish I knew! We were used in the earth unit for the Mars rover. The
    special effects of The Lord of the Rings were based on MySQL. HotorNot
    runs on MySQL. Even the Oracle FAQ runs on MySQL ().

  6. Question: What’s the most “mission critical” use of MySQL?

    Answer: I hope it doesn’t sound like megalomania, but so much of today’s online
    world runs on MySQL that it is difficult to pinpoint just one. Google
    and Yahoo run mission critical applications on MySQL. Nokia and Alcatel
    build mobile phone networks that run on MySQL. MySQL was used in various
    emergency systems during the tsunami in South East Asia and during
    hurricane Katrina.

  7. Question: How does a company controls what’s happening to its product when the Open Source community is doing the programming and testing?

    Answer: All successful open source products are governed by fairly small groups
    of long-term developers. That’s the case with Apache, Linux, JBoss, and
    others. The same applies to us, and in our case the majority of the
    developers are full-time employees of MySQL. This is the group that
    decides on the roadmap. In doing so, we need to listen very carefully to
    the broad community, because if we do not serve them well, they may fork
    our product or they may move over to some other database.

  8. Question: Is Open Source hindering innovation because it’s one thing to debug an existing product but it’s another to design a new one?

    Answer: On the contrary. I think the architecture of participation that is
    embedded in the open source philosophy is a superior innovation method.
    And it is not limited to software—look at Wikipedia. It just so
    happens that software developers were the first ones to adopt it in the
    modern world.

    The simple fact that everything you create is open for scrutiny by
    anyone else is a strong incentive to produce good stuff from the start.
    And the meritocracy of open source leads to faster innovation and
    thereby better innovations. It is a Darwinian system where over time the
    best solutions will emerge.

    Think about the market-leading DBMS company. They have 50,000 paid
    employees who are working hard to keep their product competitive. We have 50,000 product downloads per day. This means that 50,000 human beings who tinker with our product every day.
    These people have ideas, suggestions, praises, complaints and although
    not all of them send us emails every day, the good stuff tends to find
    its way to the core MySQL team. That’s how an open source project is
    more innovative and faster moving than a closed source team.

  9. Question: Who fixes the most bugs?

    Answer: Our own team. You can actually see the stats by going here
    where we completely openly list all our bugs and the
    people who work on them. We get bug fixes from commercial partners and
    from users and my hope is that they will one day fix more bugs than our
    own team. It just takes a long time to learn the internals.

    As important as fixing bugs is to report them with sufficient
    detail. Because our code is open, users can file very specific bug
    reports where they point at the places where the bug is likely to be
    found. The value of this is enormous. Here is an example of a very useful bug report from a user.

  10. Question: If MySQL ceased to exist as an organization, would MySQL the product continue?

    Answer: Software continues to exist long after companies fall by the wayside. In
    the past, customers had to demand source code to be place in escrow.
    Today with open source, users are not locked into a single vendor or

    The MySQL source code is licensed under GPL so anyone can create a fork
    or pick up the torch at any time. Forking is very very rare, but it
    serves as a perfect method of keeping vendors honest. If MySQL were to
    develop the product in a stupid direction or not keep it competitive,
    the community could take over.

    The big questions is what happens if a closed source company fails. I
    think users are going to increasingly demand that their vendors open
    source their products. Just look at Solaris. That’s why I expect that
    all DBMSs will eventually be open sourced.

  11. Question: What keeps you awake at night?

    Answer: I worry that we get caught in our own success and
    forget to reinvent ourselves. We have such a strong culture in the
    company that without realizing it we are sometimes saying “but that’s
    not our way of doing things” and then we miss out on some new opportunity.

    I also worry about software patents. It was a big mistake by society to
    believe that patents would have as favourable an effect on software as
    they had on various physical goods. Software patents stifle innovation,
    and one day we may see a nasty conflict here.

    But, in case you’re wondering, I am not worried about the current gorillas of
    the DBMS market. They are taking all kinds of actions like zero pricing,
    buying open source companies, moving up the stack, locking up customers
    even more, but these are not really working. I believe that over time all
    markets are rational.

    Also, I stay awake at night because I am doing conference
    calls with Europe and Asia!