What is it?
MySQL is an open source relational database management system that is widely used for web applications and embedded applications.
For products that defy the old proprietary development model, 1995 was a seminal year. Java, Apache and MySQL, described as the world's most popular open source database, are all 10 years old this year.
MySQL is expected to release version 5 this month, which has enterprise-class features. It has built up its user base as part of the Lamp (Linux. Apache, MySQL/Postgres/Perl/PHP/ Python) platform.
MySQL is available both free under an open source licence, and with a commercial licence shipped with other products such as Novell's Netware. Similarly, support is available through the MySQL community, or by commercial subscription.
MySQL has been the database equivalent of a no-frills airline and version 5 will continue to address those applications for which an enterprise database is too much. But new capabilities such as running enterprise resource planning applications may bring MySQL head to head with database market leaders IBM DB2 and Oracle.
Where did it originate?
Like Linux, MySQL comes from Scandinavia. MySQL AB was founded by two Swedes and a Finn.
What's it for?
MySQL has acquired its six-million-plus user base as a no-nonsense back-end for Lamp-based web applications on the basis of performance as well as price.
Version 5 supports Ansi SQL-standard stored procedures and triggers, and performs tasks such as error checking in ways that will be familiar to users of Oracle and DB2. However, the old ways will still be there for those who prefer them, and most current MySQL applications will run unchanged on Version 5. On the ERP front, MySQL is reported to be working with SAP and Agresso.
What makes it special?
MySQL AB says it offers "minimalist but functionally rich" features, yielding speed and compactness. Other claims include database licensing costs reduced by 90%, system downtime reduced by 60%, and administration, engineering and support costs cut by up to 50%.
Analyst firms such as Ovum point out that licence and maintenance fees are a small part of total cost of ownership, and other claims have yet to be proven in enterprise environments.
How difficult is it to master?
Those with experience of Structured Query Language and relational databases can retrain in three days - though given the rates available to Oracle and other database administrators, there is little temptation to do so unless the organisation they work for is majoring on the Lamp platform. MySQL AB offers a five-day course aimed at relative beginners, although this still needs some knowledge of SQL.
Where is it used?
Though most widely used at the lower end of the market, MySQL has large corporate users including AOL and Google, Dow Jones, Associated Press, Nasa, Suzuki, Alcatel, Ericsson and Siemens.
What systems does it run on?
Both the most popular and some obscure platforms. Novell, BMC, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Dell are among the firms that resell and support it. MySQL can be embedded in Java applications.
What's coming up?
Version 5 is imminent. Analysts predict that whether or not it succeeds in the enterprise datacentre, MySQL will be more widely taken up by independent software suppliers.
Rates of pay
MySQL developers with Perl/PHP skills can expect to earn £18,000 to £40,000, depending on seniority. This is less than equivalent Oracle developers, but MySQL skills are much cheaper to maintain.
MySQL AB delivers training in London. Costs are in line with commercial IT training, at £1,650 for a five-day course.
Independents such as GB Direct also offer MySQL training.