Moving On

I have a difficult task of making this post interesting, helpful and personal at the same time. I think the main goal is to balance these aspects, and I really appreciate your comments and suggestions that I will add here.

For the busy readers who may be put off by the length of this post, here is a very short summary: I spent 4 wonderful years, first as the head of Field Services, then as a CTO, I believe it is now time for a change, so I am leaving SkySQL. I am leaving behind a great company and very good friends, but I am not disappearing completely, and I will continue supporting the work I started and the projects I created with the help of such great people.

For many, leaving a company is not easy, and it is extremely difficult if you have contributed to its creation and development since the beginning. Even more difficult is to depart from ideas and projects that you have shaped and designed, together with the people who have contributed to them and that I am sure they will continue to work on these projects with great success.

The reasons for SkySQL

In the past 4 years, I have been asked many times why we had created SkySQL and how SkySQL is different from other providers, such as Percona and Oracle.
Since the beginning, the first and most important objective for SkySQL was to provide the best products and services around MySQL. In order to achieve this objective, we had created a network of partners and we were working closely with them to support our customers in the best possible way. The value added by SkySQL to the offering was a strong team of consultants and architects who could suggest and implement MySQL solutions, and a stellar Technical Support team who could provide the best possible answers to a large variety of technical and consultative issues that customers might encounter.
Having many options to choose from was certainly good, but it introduced another issue: not all the products could work well together. Customers demanded solutions from a single vendor that could go beyond the “typical” MySQL database + backup + monitor: they wanted to have a set of products that was tested and guaranteed to work together. This was the first motivation for the first big effort at SkySQL in terms of products and tools, when we defined the SkySQL Reference Architecture.

The Reference Architecture was the result of many hours spent in meetings and solitary thinking in my home office during the Christmas holidays in 2010, when the business slowed down and I could dedicate more CPU cycles to the subject. We worked on the project for 4 months and we launched the Architecture as a concept at the MySQL/Percona Conference in 2011. We demonstrated the SkySQL Reference Architecture with a tool that users could access online, in order to automatically generate and activate a fully functional cluster of MySQL replicated servers with MONyog, MySQL Replication, a cluster software with resource agent in AWS. Severalnines had a similar approach for MySQL Cluster and later for MySQL Replication and Galera, but at that time only SkySQL had the full automation and a selection of different engines and uses, from the configuration to the MySQL prompt. Later, Percona introduced a web tool that could provide an optimised configuration file.

The evolution of the Reference Architecture was the SkySQL Data Suite (SDS). The concept was similar, but the main difference was that for the first time we added SkySQL Intellectual Property to MySQL. The suite was packaged with an administration tool that was designed and built by SkySQL. The first target was the Cloud, specifically AWS and OpenStack. The initial idea was to have SDS seamlessly deployed on bare OS, on clouds or in hybrid environments. All the tools have been designed with programmable and user interfaces, in order to satisfy different customers’ needs. An independent presentation of SDS is available here.

In 2013, the company merged with Monty Program, and we suddenly found ourselves in a position where software development was a fundamental part of our offering. We moved the focus of the Data Suite to MariaDB and we rebranded it as MariaDB Enterprise, but more importantly, we combined the value and the skills of our services team with the core team of the original development of MySQL. The merge resulted in a company with all the credentials needed to excel and innovate in the MySQL world. But the key question at this point was: is this enough to make MySQL even more successful? Is a better MariaDB (or indeed MySQL) the right answer to the data management needs in 2010s and beyond?

The evolution of MySQL and MariaDB

The answer to the previous questions is not surprisingly a “no”. Indeed, users need a better MySQL (or MariaDB). Traditionally, they demanded more performance, more availability and more scalability, and many players have contributed in their own way to the cause.
Still, there is something missing. The competition from NoSQL solutions is, to say the least, intense. It is probably true that the MySQL adoption is not declining (as some analysts say), but the adoption of NoSQL is way bigger in absolute terms. And more important, the majority of the new initiatives and startups that once were the lymph that flowed in the MySQL Community, have now moved to NoSQL.
From a purely technical (and generic) perspective, when MySQL and NoSQL are tested and measured in a fair way, MySQL can provide in many cases better performance and robustness. Scalability, on the other hand, is a big issue as it has always been – it was an issue for bigger servers in the past, it is an issue for distributed systems now. The search for a better scalability is the primary reason why we have created MaxScale.

You may have read a lot about MaxScale, or you may want to read more here and here. In simple terms, MaxScale is a highly scalable, lightweight proxy system aimed at distributing and scaling parts of a database server that do not need to reside in its core. There is a similarity to this approach in the NoSQL world and certainly in many home made solitions. The mongos / mongod binomial is a good example of what MaxScale can achieve with MySQL, but this is only half of the story. MaxScale is generic in nature, what makes it a relevant component of the IT infrastucture are its plugins. By loading different plugins you can make MaxScale a proxy for multiple client protocols, or a proxy for geographically replicated servers, or to integrate different replication technologies, and so on.

I believe that we need MaxScale for MySQL and MariaDB. Incidentally, Max is the name of Monty’s son, so we have covered all his heirs (at least so far). In designing MaxScale, I wanted to provide a link between a technology that was good for servers available in the 90s and today’s infrastructures.

A difficult choice?

One might ask, if I feel so strong about MaxScale and its fundamental role, why am I leaving it behind? The fact is, I am not. The project is in good hands, thanks to the great work and dedication from Mark Riddoch, Massimiliano Pinto and Vilho Raatikka. The concept, the ideas and the architecture are here to stay. MaxScale is shaped today as we – Mark Riddoch, Massimo Brignoli and I – wanted it, as we have designed it during long hours of work and passionate discussions.
When your kids grow up and are ready to walk alone in the world, you need to let them go. MaxScale can now walk with MySQL and MariaDB, and SkySQL will take a good care of their path together. So now, I may move on and I have time to raise other kids.

A look at the future

As for me, I am technically embracing a wider range of technologies. I will not be focused only to MySQL, but rest assured that these 10 years will always remain in my heart. I will work on IT infrastructures and systems where databases play the central and most important role, but I will look at the customers’ needs as a whole. I will carry on my duty for the MySQL User Group in London, that has now reached the reasonable size of 40-50 attendees per session, every other month. I will not move my MySQL blog, so any MySQL-related post will be available on izoratti.blogspot.com and it will be aggregated on PlanetMySQL. But I will have a collection various topics in my personal blog www.ivanzoratti.com. I will cover more databases, HPC, OpenStack and OSs. I will also have a section dedicated to an important aspect of my life, which is the study of Kung Fu in its inner and outer styles. I started learning Kung Fu almost 30 years ago, first for 12 years, then I abandoned it for another 12 years, until I realised the importance of this practice in my life. I have to thank some of my best friends for that, they really helped me a lot in good and bad times.

So, even if I will not wear a T-shirt with a seal (or a sea lion, as it is more fashionable these days), you will probably see me around at conferences and exhibitions, or perhaps you will not see me, but I will work, as I have done in these 10 years, behind the scenes to make MySQL the good and strong database that can help in creating the next Facebook or the next Twitter of this world.

All the best to all of you.