Happiness is a Warm Cloud

Although a few folks knew about where I and many of the Sun Drizzle team had ended up, we’ve waited until today to “officially” tell folks what’s up. We — Monty Taylor, Eric Day, Stewart Smith, Lee Bieber, and myself — are all now “Rackers”, working at Rackspace Cloud. And yep, we’re still workin’ on Drizzle. That’s the short story. Read on for the longer one 🙂

An Interesting Almost 3 Years at MySQL

I left my previous position of Community Relations Manager at MySQL to begin working on Brian Aker‘s newfangled Drizzle project in October 2008.

Many people at MySQL still think that I abandoned MySQL when I did so. I did not. I merely had gotten frustrated with the slow pace of change in the MySQL engineering department and its resistance to transparency. Sure, over the 3 years I was at MySQL, the engineering department opened up a bit, but it was far from the ideal level of transparency I had hoped to inspire when I joined MySQL.

For almost 3 years, I had sent numerous emails to the MySQL internal email discussion lists asking the engineering and marketing departments, both headed by Zack Urlocker, to recognize the importance and necessity of major refactoring of the MySQL kernel, and the need to modularize the kernel or risk having more modular databases overtake MySQL as the key web infrastructure database. The focus was always on the short term; on keeping up with the Jones’ as far as features went, and I railed against this kind of roadmap, instead pushing the idea of breaking up the server into modules that could be blackboxed and developed independently of the kernel. My ideas were met with mostly kind responses, but nothing ever materialized as far as major refactoring efforts were concerned.

I remember Jim Winstead casually responding to one of my emails, “Congratulations, you’ve just reinvented Apache 2.0”. And, yes, Jim, that was kind of the point…

The MySQL source code base had gotten increasingly unmaintainable over the years, and key engineers were extremely resistant to changing the internals of MySQL and modernizing it. There were some good reasons for being resistant, and some poor reasons (such as “this is the way we’ve always done it”). Overall, it’s tough to question the strategy that Zack, Marten Mickos, and others had regarding the short term gains. After all, they managed to maneuver MySQL into a winning position that Sun Microsystems thought was worth one billion dollars. Because of this, it’s tough to argue with them. 😐

Working on Drizzle since October 2008 (officially)

I’m not the kind of person which likes to wait for years to see change, and so the Drizzle project interested me because it was not concerned with backwards compatibility with MySQL, it wasn’t concerned with having a roadmap that was dependent on the whims of a few big customers, and it was very much interested in challenging the assumptions built into a 20 year-old code base. This is a project I could sink my teeth into. And I did.

Many folks have said that the only reason Drizzle is still around is because Sun continued to pay for a number of engineers to work on Drizzle as “an experiment of sorts” and that Drizzle has no customers and therefore nothing to lose and everything to gain. This was true, no doubt about it. At Sun CTO Labs, the few of us did have the ability to code on Drizzle without the pressure-cooker of product marketing and sales demands. We were lucky.

4 6 9 10 Months in Purgatory

So, around rolls April 2009. The stock market and worldwide economy had collapsed and recession was in the air. There’s one thing that is absolutely certain in recession economies: companies that have poor leadership and direction and are beholden to the interests of a large stockholder will seek an end to their misery through acquisition by a larger, stronger firm.

And Sun Microsystems was no different. JAVA stock plummeted to two dollars a share, and Jonathan Schwartz and the Sun board began shopping Sun around to the highest bidder. IBM was courted along with other tech giants. So was Oracle.

And it was with a bit of a hangover that I awoke at the MySQL conference in April 2009 to the news that Oracle had purchased Sun Microsystems. Joy. We’d just gone through 14 months of ongoing integration with Sun Microsystems and now it was going to start all over again.

Anyone who follows PlanetMySQL knows about the ensuing battle in the European Commission’s court regarding monopoly of Oracle in the database market with its acquisition of MySQL. Monty Widenius, Eben Moglen, even Richard Stallman, weighed in on the pros and cons of Oracle’s impending control over MySQL.

All the while, us Sun Microsystems employees had to hold our tongues and try to keep our jobs as Sun laid off thousands more workers while the EC battle ensued. Not fun. It was the employment equivalent of purgatory. And the time just dragged on, with many employees, including myself and the Sun Drizzle team, not having a clue as to what would happen to us. Management was completely silent about future plans. Oracle made zero attempts to outline its future strategy regarding software, and thus most software employees simply kept on doing their work not knowing if the pink slip was arriving tomorrow or not. Lots of fun that was.

Oracle Doesn’t Need Our Services — Larry Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Cloud

The acquisition finally closed and very shortly afterwards, I got a call from my boss, Lee Bieber, that Oracle wouldn’t be needing our services. Monty, Eric, and Stewart had already resigned; none of them had any desire to work for Oracle. Lee and I had decided to see what they had in mind for us. Apparently, not much.

Larry Ellison has gone on record that the whole “cloud thing” is faddish. I don’t know whether Larry understands that cloud computing and infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, and database-as-a-service will eventually put his beloved Oracle cash cow in its place or not. I don’t know whether Oracle is planning on embracing the cloud environments which will continue to eat up the market share of more traditional in-house environments upon which their revenue streams depend. I really don’t.

But what I do know is that Rackspace is betting that providing these services is what the future of technology will be about.

Happiness is a Warm Cloud

Our team has landed at Rackspace Cloud. I’ve now been down to San Antonio twice to meet with key individuals with whom we’ll be working closely. Rackspace is not shy about why the wanted to acquire our team. They see Drizzle as a database that will provide them an infrastructure piece that will be modular and scalable enough to meet the needs of their very diverse Cloud customers, of which there are many tens of thousands.

Rackspace recognizes that the pain points they feel with traditional MySQL cannot be solved with simple hacks and workarounds, and that to service the needs of so many customers, they will need a database server that thinks of itself as a friendly piece of their infrastructure and not the driver of its applications. Drizzle’s core principles of flexibility and focus on scalability align with the goals Rackspace Cloud has for its platform’s future.

Rackspace is also heavily invested in Cassandra, and sees integration of Drizzle and Cassandra as being a key way to add value to its platforms and therefore for its customers.

Rackspace is all about the customers, and this is a really cool thing to experience. It’s typical for companies to claim they are all about the customer — in fact, every company I’ve ever worked for has claimed this. Rackspace is the first company I’ve worked for where you actually feel this spirit, though. You can see the fanaticism of Rackers and how they view what they do always in terms of service to the customer. It’s infectious, and I’m pretty psyched to be on their team.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. See y’all on the nets.