Analysts scratch heads over MariaDB's decision to ditch DBaaS crown jewels

'Their future is murky at the moment'

Database industry observers are slamming MariaDB's decision to ditch two of its core products as it restructures the business in the face of financial challenges.

Last week, the database company born out of a MySQL fork announced to investors it was ditching strategic products and cutting 28 percent of the workforce. The company also announced access to a $26.5 million loan facility.

Carl Olofson, research vice president at IDC, wished the company the best, but said "their future is murky at this point."

Last week, MariaDB – which counts Samsung, Nokia, and ServiceNow among its customers – said it would stop providing its DBaaS SkySQL and Xpand, the distributed back end to the service.

Olofson noted that these products had been "the company's best drivers for future growth."

"Now it's hard to be optimistic about MariaDB," he said. "Database users look for stability and long-term viability in a database technology provider. They also want to see a future direction that points to functionality that meets the requirements of databases going forward."

MariaDB is ranked the seventh most popular database among professional developers, according to 2023 research from Stack Overflow. It is used by nearly 18 percent of professional developers and is ahead of Oracle in the survey. DB-Engines ranks MariaDB 13th in the market, one ahead of Splunk, which Cisco recently acquired for $28 billion.

SkySQL was launched in 2020 to rival RDBMS services from cloud vendors such as Google, Microsoft, and AWS. In 2021, MariaDB added the Xpand distributed back end to SkySQL and in May this year offered a PostgreSQL compatible front end. The company won praise from analysts for the engineering behind the products.

Last week MariaDB said it would implement a plan to "help existing customers migrate off these products."

Adam Ronthal, Gartner vice principal analyst for data management and analytics, warned that it is challenging for a small vendor to deploy cloud services.

"They need to invest in cloud infrastructure well ahead of demand on the assumption of success," he said. "That business is unlikely to be profitable for several years, and only reaches profitability if demand materializes. In the case of MariaDB, I suspect that the demand never materialized to a level where the database platform-as-a-service offering was sustainable."

Since 2019, Gartner has signaled the database market's shift to a cloud-based service and this year it forecast that by 2027, more than 70 percent of the revenue in the global DBMS market will be attributed to cloud.

"Discontinuing a cloud dbPaaS offering is not aligned with where we think this market is going," Ronthal said. "Competitive offerings that implement open source APIs (PostgreSQL or MySQL) have significant market momentum which will make it increasingly difficult for MariaDB to compete effectively." Users of SkySQL who want to remain in the cloud could go to MariaDB Cloud, "which is more of a managed service and not a full dbPaaS offering," he said. Or they could migrate to an alternative service.

"I suspect that many will choose to migrate. Remember, MariaDB, as a fork of MySQL, is largely compatible with offerings that implement the MySQL API. There are plenty of options including Oracle's MySQL Heatwave, Amazon Aurora, or even offerings like PlanetScale – based on Vitess."

The Register has offered MariaDB the opportunity to explain its decision and say where it expects DBaaS customers to go after it discontinues the service. A spokesperson told us: "The recent $26.5 million financing demonstrates the strong belief our financial partners have in our business and our strategy. We remain focused on growing our core MariaDB Enterprise Server business and have received positive recognition from our ecosystem partners on the changes we have made."

Federico Razzoli, founder and director of UK-based database consultancy Vettabase, said MariaDB was reacting to its "financial troubles" but was not going about it in the best way.

"The company spent a lot of resources to develop and market SkySQL and Xpand, and apparently they plan to dismiss them. Xpand is a solid storage engine built upon ClustrixDB, a technology they acquired on 2018," he said. "The company has chosen to make it only available via their cloud solution, SkySQL. Making it open source could have increased its adoption."

Razzoli said the company's focus on MariaDB Enterprise only, selling support and ready-made configurations for the open source software, might struggle to succeed.

"But it won't be easy to convince users of managed databases like SkySQL to move to a non-managed solution with the support of the vendor. This would require efforts on many levels, including acquiring new skills. Instead, for a customer it would be simpler to move to other cloud services that offer MariaDB, such as Amazon RDS."

Meanwhile, those keen on the database have open source options offered by the MariaDB Foundation, where MariaDB and MySQL founder Michael "Monty" Widenius is a board member.

Razzoli said the foundation was doing great work to improve open source MariaDB adoption.

"They're becoming increasingly more independent from MariaDB plc, and the acquisition of Amazon as their newest Diamond Sponsor goes in this direction. The financial difficulties and choices of MariaDB plc will affect their customers, but they won't put the future of the MariaDB project in danger," he predicted. ®

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