A positive new chapter for MariaDB Server

Energetic Sea Lion

MariaDB Server has lots of energy and potential to increase its impact amongst Open Source RDBMSes. As the CEO of MariaDB Foundation, I’m happy to note that I can finally share a positive outlook for the next chapters in the story of MariaDB Server, based on what is happening with its namesake commercial entity, MariaDB plc. After years of missed opportunities, let me share with you why and how I have entered into this positive mood. 

The Foundation and the plc are two separate entities … 

Let me begin by reiterating what is clear only to those following MariaDB Server very closely, namely that MariaDB Foundation and MariaDB plc are two separate entities, with separate governance, separate staff, and separate – although not conflicting – goals. 

This may seem like an unnecessary, technical detour for the users of MariaDB Server, but it isn’t. It is one of the key reasons for the longevity and health of the ecosystem. 

… with a number of key differences …

So, let me contrast us (MariaDB Foundation) with them (MariaDB plc): 

Our mission is described by the three keywords Adoption, Openness, and Continuity, for the benefit of the MariaDB Server user base; MariaDB plc is a for-profit entity, striving to create shareholder value.

We have sponsors like Intel, IBM, Webpros, DBS Bank, Service Now, Acronis, and Alibaba, and just added Amazon as our first Diamond Sponsor (500k€ a year); MariaDB plc is a VC-backed startup, which was listed on NYSE after an unsuccessful SPAC and a plunging share price.

We have a slowly-evolving, long-term Board with nine representatives of various constituencies. MariaDB plc just restructured its board in conjunction with a bridge loan by one of its long-term investors.

… but also aligned interests 

Our key asset is the ownership of the MariaDB Server code repository, and the governance and contributor work related to that. MariaDB plc employs most of the key developers of MariaDB Server and comes with well over 80% of the code contributions to MariaDB Server.

Our work on the adoption of MariaDB Server helps MariaDB plc, and our work on openness enables MariaDB Server to properly serve the interests of contributors, extending the functionality of the product.

Our work on continuity makes it possible for the user base to trust MariaDB Server, without having to rely on one commercial entity. That said, with over 80% of the code contributions coming from MariaDB plc, anyone understands that the state of MariaDB plc has a big impact on MariaDB Server.

Enter new MariaDB plc management …

My take on the new MariaDB plc management is quite positive. In the notes from our last Board Meeting Wed 6 Sep 2023, I reflected on our relationship with MariaDB plc, saying that

external events changed the constellation fundamentally, and much for the better. MariaDB plc appointed a new CEO and new senior management, who have a very different and fundamentally positive attitude to Open Source and MariaDB Foundation.

Thus, MariaDB plc and MariaDB Foundation are now rebooting their entire relationship. The CEOs are working intensely together, with the goal to establish a fruitful cooperation with a sensible role division which is aligned with Open Source practices and with the MariaDB Foundation mission of Adoption, Openness, and Continuity.

… which makes for a huge change

I even likened this to the end of the Cold War, perhaps a tad melodramatic. But during our MariaDB Unconference Tue-Thu 3-5 Oct 2023 in Finland, there were a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings of reconciliation, as the MariaDB plc team present outnumbered the MariaDB Foundation team by more than 2:1. Everyone was happy interacting with the “externals” present – consisting of MariaDB plc customers, MariaDB Foundation sponsors, and other members of the MariaDB Server ecosystem.

However, MariaDB plc had overinvested

Warm and fuzzy feelings between MariaDB plc and MariaDB Foundation don’t by themselves imply a good overall MariaDB plc strategy, though. 

The new management had inherited product lines, which weren’t Open Source, and which cost huge amounts of continued investment. The plc was bleeding money, which no longer was available at zero cost a few years ago. Those product lines were Xpand (an ultra-HA ultra-scalability solution, but not a general use case) and SkySQL (a Cloud offering, the details of which I never understood).

Enter the need for immediate money

Financial details should normally be of little interest for a user of Open Source software. But there is a rule for any entity that has got financing from the European Investment Bank (EIB): When publicly noted, the loan has strictly to be paid back. This has to happen within nine months of going public, so there was a need for money.

Enter a long-term valued shareholder 

Judging from my observations of what happened, there are numerous and perhaps even entertaining aspects to the financing of a publicly listed startup where most VCs have invested a fair number of years ago. However, those are interesting mostly for an investor audience or an MBA class, not the users of Open Source software. 

Suffice it to say that Runa Capital stepped in, as an existing investor since 2014 and one of the biggest shareholders, with a bridge loan that solved the EIB issue, and provided working capital for the upcoming months. 

A trusted existing investor stepping in with a substantial bridge loan is a strong show of faith in the long-term viability of MariaDB plc. This is another building block for my good mood towards MariaDB plc’s biggest code contributor, the other one, as mentioned, being the new management.

Exit two product lines: Xpand and SkySQL

The overinvestment issues still had to be fixed. There had to be a reduction of the workforce, and that is never a pleasant thing. That said, there were a number of silver linings in this case.

First, it was fairly obvious which product lines didn’t carry their weight: Xpand and SkySQL. So the cuts could be focused on these products.

Second, the people affected are mostly in high demand. Following my LinkedIn stream, I see quite a few of the people already having new jobs.

Third, some of our other sponsors – notably, Amazon – were amongst those picking up people. At MariaDB Foundation, we did our best to facilitate this, as Continuity is our mission.

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, MariaDB Server was not affected by the layoffs.   

Enter on centre stage: MariaDB Server

Over the last few years, MariaDB Server and products around it – such as MariaDB MaxScale – have been the most successful products, both technically and financially. But these core products have hardly got any management attention at the plc, which all went into Xpand and SkySQL. Despite the lack of attention, I am told that the core products grew at a reasonable rate, and they are now the main focus of the Sales team. 

So now we see MariaDB Server enter the centre stage of MariaDB plc, in a strategy that seems to me to be best described by the words “back to the basics”. With the development, support and even sales teams of MariaDB Server not affected by the layoffs, I am looking forward to working with a MariaDB plc having a strategy that is finally aligned with the mission of MariaDB Foundation. 

Let the work begin!

There is a lot of work for us to do to help MariaDB plc, but now, the waiting is over, and the work can begin. 

Welcome back, MariaDB plc!