SAP DB Becomes MaxDB

SAP and the Swedish database specialists MySQL AB recently announced a technology partnership that caused a stir in the industry: In future, SAP and MySQL will work jointly on an open source database. The vision: The advantages of both database technologies will be merged in a joint, next-generation database. One of the first steps in this process was to rename the SAP DB open source database as MaxDB, which will be sold in future by both partners. While SAP will offer MaxDB together with NetWeaver and its own solutions, MySQL will provide the database as a stand-alone product.
In the SAP DB community, this announcement led to a degree of uncertainty. Users that work with the open source product in conjunction with other SAP solutions were worried about the future of the database, and expressed these concerns in animated contributions to mailing lists. Many people asked themselves whether this partnership spelled the end of SAP DB or whether the move meant that SAP was intending to withdraw from open source community. Above all, the question of how SAP DB would be developed in future would have wide-reaching consequences for all users: The migration from one database system to another is complex and usually results in increased operating costs – particularly for open source users, because in the world of open source database software, there is currently no product that could replace SAP DB from a technical point of view.

SAP DB will be developed under another name

These fears are unfounded, however, as Jörg Hoffmeister, Development Manager of Platforms & Support in SAP Development, Berlin, and Patrik Backman, Partner Manager of MySQL, explain. Neither will SAP turn its back on the open source world nor has SAP DB reached the end of its development. According to Hoffmeister, the reasons for the collaboration with MySQL are down to the nature of the database market. “Today, relational databases are commodity products. When we launched SAP DB in the open source community about three years ago, the market was already very difficult. It would have been almost impossible to establish another product alongside Oracle, IBMs DB/2 and Microsoft’s SQL Server – particularly as SAP is not a database provider, and does not want to become one.” For this reason, states Hoffmeister, SAP DB did not receive much attention initially, and the market’s awareness of the product did not meet expectations. “As a result of the decision to offer our database as open source, we hoped above all to win over more users for our products,” the SAP manager recalls. Because of the low level of awareness, it was difficult to find experienced support personnel, particularly outside Europe – but competent user support is absolutely essential, particular for products in the Enterprise environment.
SAP DB was therefore able to break out from its niche existence, and today is widely accepted by users. According to Hoffmeister, around 1 200 people have subscribed to the SAP DB mailing list on the website. The database is also used in around 3.5 percent – or approximately 2 500 – of all SAP installations. “While this is still not enough for us, it corresponds more or less to the number of SAP installations that work with DB2 on Unix, for example,” says Hoffmeister.

Wider distribution thanks to experienced partner

After this initial success, however, the question SAP and the SAP DB community had to ask was how development should proceed. To achieve greater dynamism in this respect, Hoffmeister believed a partner was needed that was first very familiar with the open source market, and second saw itself as a database manufacturer. “MySQL was the obvious choice: The MySQL database has a very wide installed base, the company has developed interesting license models, and offers excellent technology.”
SAP DB and MySQL are not in direct competition, since both databases have different strengths, and complement each other. While MySQL is used particularly in the Web Content Management environment, with a large number of read accesses, SAP DB has qualities that are required for running enterprise solutions. Here, the usage profile is characterized by a large number of applications that make frequent changes to the data stored.
MySQL manager Backman has a similar view of the situation. “With the partnership with SAP, we want to reach customers who need characteristics that are not implemented in our database.” MySQL is focusing in particular on the ERP environment (Enterprise Resource Planning) here. According to Backman, MySQL is currently active primarily in the area of internet databases. “We want to offer a commodity product in the enterprise business,” says Backman of the company’s aim. The MySQL database is lacking a few characteristics in this respect that SAP DB can offer.
In the first phase of the partnership, SAP passed on the sale and distribution rights for SAP DB to the Swedish database specialists. In connection with this, the product name was changed, so all future releases will now be called MaxDB. But otherwise, things will remain the same from a technical point of view, as Hoffmeister is keen to stress. “The current version is SAP DB 7.4. The new release 7.5 will also appear this year, and will then be called MaxDB 7.5. It is not a completely new database, simply the systematic, ongoing development of SAP DB. We have improved a few security features, for example. So anyone using SAP DB 7.3 or 7.4, will just carry out a completely normal update to MaxDB 7.5.”

More support through MySQL

The most important development is on a completely different level: Anyone previously using SAP DB outside of the SAP applications was basically reliant on support from the community if problems occurred. In future, thanks to the partnership, professional support will be offered to these users, too. “As before, support for all MaxDB installations within SAP applications will be covered by the SAP maintenance contracts,” explains Hoffmeister. And Backman goes on to add, “But users who use the MaxDB independently will have access to professional services from MySQL equal to those we offer for the MySQL database.” Therefore, for SAP customers, the partnership will simply mean that the name of the database will change, while all other users will have access to a broader range of support.
With regard to future plans, too, both managers stress that no steps will be taken that will force SAP and MaxDB users to migrate. “We will continue to handle the code base as an evolutionary development,” says Hoffmeister. “This is not just in the interests of our customers, it is also important for SAP itself. After all, SAP DB is an integral part of some SAP components such as the liveCache, Content Server or the new J2EE Server, for example.” In internal operations, SAP will continue to rely on MaxDB. As Backman states, “At the moment, we still have two separate development paths for MySQL and MaxDB. Most of the MaxDB development will be carried out by SAP, as before.” Backman’s advice for all SAB DB users is, “If you use SAP DB today, you should not be put off, and should continue to follow your own roadmap.”

Long-term plans

Hoffmeister envisages a three- to five-year timeframe for the next-generation database announced at the start of the partnership, which will bring together the advantages of the MySQL and SAP databases in a completely new product. “It will not happen overnight; a database in the enterprise sphere is a highly complex product.” Initially, both partners will be channeling their energies into improved collaboration between MaxDB and MySQL. “We are currently working on a MySQL proxy, for example, which can be used to execute MySQL applications on MaxDB.”
As Backman cautions, the partnership only started recently, and collaboration will initially take place at management level. “A joint development department is not planned. Of course, collaboration should become closer and closer, but first we have a lot to learn from each other.” The main objective at the moment, he says, is to create interfaces between the two database worlds. Like Hoffmeister, Backman is also counting on the interrelation between the two database technologies. Alongside the MySQL proxy, which an MySQL client can use to access MaxDB, Backman states that a replication service is in the pipeline, which will enable replications between MySQL and MaxDB. This should be available in the course of the coming year.
The main task of MySQL is therefore to integrate the open source database in its own licensing and support structure. In this area, MySQL introduced “dual licensing” a number of years ago. This model makes the MySQL products available under two different licenses: As is common for open source, the code and compiled binaries can simply be downloaded from the internet and used without a license fee. The software is subject to the GNU General Public License (GPL), according to which anyone can make changes to the code. However, the GNU GPL contains a clause stating that every development that is based on a GNU product must also be made available under this license. Companies that want to develop and sell their own applications together with MySQL can therefore purchase a commercial license for the MySQL products. This is not subject to the GNU GPL, and the code of own developments does not have to be made public. According to Backman, MySQL will retain both license models – GNU GPL and the commercial license – for MaxDB. MySQL will therefore also be offering its support services to all MaxDB customers that use their database outside the SAP environment.
Professional users, in particular, will benefit from the more extensive support offered and from the variety of license models. As a result, all the signs indicate that the world of open source databases will be strengthened as a result of the partnership between SAP and MySQL. And according to market experts from the Giga Information Group, it is precisely these products that have an exciting future: “Open source database management systems will be used more extensively,” according to a statement in Giga’s paper “IT Trend 2003: Database Management Systems.”

Jan Schulze
Jan Schulze