Percona organized MySQL related conferences and seminars before, and from what I've heard, with considerable success and to satisfaction of its attendees, and there's one coming up in London in October 2011. But arguably, last week's announcement is quite different from the prior Percona conferences. It's different, because it seeks to replace the annual O'Reilly MySQL Conference and Expo.
Everyone that has read the announcement will have no trouble recognizing it as a replacement, since it reads:
We all know that the entire MySQL community has been waiting to see if there will be a MySQL conference next year in the traditional date and location. To the best of our knowledge, no one else was planning one, so we decided to keep the tradition alive.If you're still in doubt:
- The conference title contains the phrase: "MySQL Conference and Expo".
- It's to be held in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Santa Clara, which has been the venue for the O'Reilly MySQL Conference and Expo since at least 2005.
- It's scheduled to take place midway April, exactly like the O'Reilly conferences used to be.
- The scope of the conference encompasses the entire "eco-system" - whatever that is: Developers and DBAs; tools and techniques; tutorials, talks and BOFs. It's about users, but also explicitly about companies and businesses.
- Kaj Arnö, EVP Products of SkySQL: "Santa Clara MySQL Conference 2012: Unity or division?"
- Giuseppe Maxia, member of the IOUG's (Independent Oracle User Group) MySQL Council: "Call for disclosure on MySQL Conference 2012"
- Sheeri Cabral, sr. DBA and Community Liason at PalominiDB: "Disclosure: Truth About MySQL 2012 Conference Planning"
- Henrik Ingo: "The MySQL conference is back for 2012, courtesy of Percona"
- Marco Tusa: "A Missed Opportunity?"
- Monty Widenius of Monty Program ab: "What is happening with the MySQL conference?"
Except for Henrik's post, all of these express a negative attitude towards Percona's announcement. The critique focuses on a few themes:
- Giuseppe and Sheeri express similar thoughts. They recall how Baron Schwartz and Peter Zaitsev (both from Percona, and now initiating the 2012 conference) criticized the O'Reilly MySQL Conference and Expo 2008 edition for increasingly becoming an event focused at business and vendors, rather than at users (see here and here). There seems to be a hidden accusation that now, only a few years later, Baron and Peter are "guilty" of organizing a business-oriented conference themsevles.
- Also both Sheeri and Giuseppe's posts express the concern that Oracle might not allow any of its MySQL engineers and architects to speak at the conference. This would arguably make it a less interesting conference as Oracle is a major -if not the main- contributor to both MySQL and InnoDB.
- All bloggers argue that organizing a conference of this scale should not be the effort of a single company. In particular Kaj Arnö and Monty Widenius allude to the possibility of O'Reilly organizing the conference again, just like the way things used to be. They both explicitly include a list of the major companies contributing to MySQL which they envision should help drive such a conference.
The main concern here is that when a single company organizes this event, it will be their event. In other words, it will not be neutral. There is serious concern for unfair competition, as the organizing company gets to decide or exert greater influence on which talks are approved, and how talks are scheduled against each other
But before I explain, I think it's interesting to observe that nobody seems to assume it as a given that O'Reilly would be organizing another MySQL Conference and Expo. Monty comes closest to saying something about it:
The reason for my state of mind is that although there have been rumors about discontinuance of the O'Reilly arranged conference there hasn't been any announcement about this.So basically, because O'Reilly didn't say they weren't going to do one, it might be possible, right :) I tend to look at it differently: It means exactlty nothing when someone, O'Reilly included, didn't announce something. The way I see it, O'Reilly has nothing to gain by announcing that they will not be organizing another MySQL Conference. Similarly, they've got nothing to lose by not announcing they aren't.
In fact, I have been working with O'Reilly to try to setup next year's O'Reilly MySQL conference with the intention of having it 'exactly like before', even if Oracle would not participate.
In the end, organizing conferences is one of O'Reilly's business activities. The mere fact that they've been organizing one during the previous years does not bestow any special responsibility upon them to inform potential attendees and sponsors that they are discontinuing such an activity.
It's interesting that Monty mentions he was working together with O'Reilly on it. I have no reason to doubt it, but I do suspect that whatever was in the works, it was probably not going to happen at the traditional location and at the traditional time window. Silicon Valley Conference centers are busy places, and need to be reserved well in advance - starting to work on it less than three quarters in advance can probably not be considered "well in advance" for an event of this scale.
Now, here are my arguments as to why I do not share the opinions I mentioned above:
- If you read Peter and Baron's posts from way back in 2008 (I included the links already, but here and here they are again), you will notice that they were not in fact criticizing the O'Reilly MySQL Conference and Expo at all. They simply recognized there was a gap and felt there should also be a community-driven conference. In fact, Baron initiated such an event, the Open SQL Camp. That turned out to be such a great success that others started organizing OpenSQL Camps too.
Now, if you read Baron's announcement for the Percona MySQL Conference and Expo, you'll notice that precisely because the tables are turned, they now feel the need to maintain a business-driven MySQL conference. They simply recognized that now there is the risk of a gap as far as a business-driven MySQL conference is concerned. In other words, there is no question of should this be a business-driven event or a community-driven event. Both kinds of events are needed, and the business one wasn't being taken care of, neither by O'Reilly, nor by Oracle.
- The concern that Oracle might not allow its engineers to attend a conference that is organized by a competitor seems reasonable. But it assumes that they would allow it if it was a vendor-neutral conference, or at least a conference that could be perceived as such. To those that have been involved to some extent in the organization of the 2010 and 2011 editions of the MySQL Conference, it should be no secret that Oracle's participation hasn't been exactly eager. Just listen to Tim O'Reilly's own talk at the MySQL 2010 conference. If that doesn't convince you, look at the sponsor list for the 2011 edition: no Oracle. And if that still doesn't convince you - Last year it was very unclear whether Oracle was sending any delegation at all. Only at a very late stage did we receive proposals from Oracle.
To be clear, I am not blaming Oracle for not wishing to participate in a particular conference. They have their own strategy and they are entitled to execute that however they see fit, even if that includes not sponsoring or speaking at a major MySQL conference. I'm just arguing that whether or not such a conference is organized by a vendor neutral party does not seem to be a part of Oracle's consideration. There is in my opinion absolutely no guarantee that Oracle would participate if things really would be like they used to, and O'Reilly and not Percona would be organizing another edition.
- The final matter I'd like to discuss is the idea of all major MySQL contributing companies on working togehter to organize a conference. Although I think that's a very sympathetic idea, it doesn't seem very realistic to me. Or at least, it doesn't seem realistic that this would lead to a Santa Clara conference in April 2012. So maybe this is something all involved parties should discuss for the years to come.
What is left is Percona's company name in the conference title. While Percona is likely to use that to drive their own business, this is not really different from all pre-2010 MySQL conferences, where MySQL AB and then Sun used it to drive theirs. That does not mean it excludes competitors using the conference to their advantage to pursue their business interests. There has always been room for competing vendors, and arguably that is what made the event not just *a* MySQL conference, but *the* MySQL conference.
I understand that not everybody is happy about how things are going now, and it would be great if all companies that feel they have a stake here collaborate in the future. But for now, I'm really happy there will be a 2012 edition, and I thank Percona for organizing it. I will definitely send in proposals as soon as the call for papers is open, and I hope everybody that feels they have something to talk about or present will do the same. I really believe this can be a conference exactly like it was before, with the only difference that it's organized by Percona, and not O'Reilly.