The past few years of MySQL conferences...
Every year since Oracle's acquisition of MySQL in 2009, there's been some uncertainty around the annual MySQL conference, which used to be co-organized by MySQL AB (in charge of content) and O'Reilly (conference logistics). As my career unfolded during those years, I've seen relatively close how the conferences of 2010 and 2011 happened. As there's been a lot of re-structuring in the community around various forks and new employers, I've felt that the annual conference was the one thing that kept us together, the one common forum where everyone would meet. For this reason I have been personally very engaged (as have many others) in helping O'Reilly get through the conferences of 2010 and 2011 and I'm very grateful to Tim, Gina and the rest of the O'Reilly team that they have provided us with this forum and gravitation point for the past two years.
During this years conference it was openly speculated that it would be the last O'Reilly MySQL conference. EnterpriseDB being the main sponsor at a MySQL conference... kind of gave you a hint. With Oracle constantly boycotting and refusing to sponsor the conference of its own community, the business justification for O'Reilly to keep going just wasn't there anymore.
So once again we were facing uncertainty of what to do next year.
When we have been discussing alternatives for the next MySQL conference, I always maintained there are 3 things from which people recognize the MySQL conference: time, location and name. So I was encouraging people to come up with solutions that would maintain those 3 variables as constant as possible.
See you again next year, same bat-time, same bat-channel!
It was therefore a great morning to wake up today and see that Percona has stepped up to the challenge and are arranging an enlarged Percona Live, in mid-April 2012, in Santa Clara, and even appended a familiar ring to the name! This is more than I believed was possible to have! Thanks guys for doing it!
The Percona Live events have already earned a reputation of delivering high class content to MySQL users. At Nokia we even had people from Europe flying to the New York event earlier this year, and I'm planning to be at the London event that I consider the premier European MySQL event. That they now feel confident in growing their California event to a size that can fill the void left behind by Oracle's abandonment of the MySQL Conference is just great. What's even better, for the first time in years, I'm kind of hopeful there will also be a conference in 2013 and beyond, as it feels likely that Percona will continue to have an interest in the MySQL community for years to come, and hopefully will stay in business and not be acquired by Oracle.
MySQL Community Awards are back
A related tradition that Oracle also turned away from in 2010 was the issuing of MySQL community awards. It's something I've picked up during the past 2 years with the blessing of conference chairs Colin Charles and Brian Aker, and with the help of a community panel that has voted for the winners each year. Like with the conference itself, I haven't minded at all that Oracle let go control of this tradition, I think the community panel has chosen great and very deserving winners both years. Last year we even improved by taking nominations openly from the community.
Seeing that there will again be a MySQL conference next April, I'm happy to announce here publicly that there will be a MySQL Community Awards ceremony again in 2012. Percona has today confirmed they are more than happy to provide a slot at the Santa Clara conference. Shlomi Noah (panel member in 2011 and 2010) has agreed to co-chair the effort with me and we will follow the same community focused process as last year - expect nominations to open up early 2012.
Were there any alternatives?
Seeing (and foreseeing) that there will be some debate for and against Percona picking up this important tradition, I also wanted to end by sharing a bit of the discussion that's happened since April.
1) The primary alternative of course was to have yet another O'Reilly conference. They know how to do a great MySQL conference, and in the multi-vendor community we live in they were also trusted as a neutral party. After the previous MySQL conference, O'Reilly has been in talks with the major support vendors in the MySQL space to discuss the future. This includes SkySQL, MariaDB and of course Percona and Oracle too. As much as everyone wanted O'Reilly to keep organizing the conference, the result speaks for itself: They couldn't commit (and in Oracle's case of course weren't interested) to a level of sponsorship that would have made it financially viable for O'Reilly. I think it is important to highlight this alternative: everyone had an opportunity to pursue this one, but didn't. That O'Reilly is not doing the conference next year shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, it was well known a few weeks back at OSCON.
2) I have at occasions tried to also propose a "make the best of a bad situation" alternative where we could fold into another O'Reilly conference, particularly OSCON, where perhaps O'Reilly would give us a special MySQL track. Perl has this kind of relationship with OSCON. I don't think anyone else but me liked this alternative, everyone felt that MySQL deserves a conference that is about MySQL. I of course agree. So the options involving O'Reilly were pretty much exhausted at this point.
3) There has also been discussions around a community organized conference. I spoke with a few random people at OSCON about this. It didn't seem like those people were seriously planning anything together, it was just an opinion they had independent of each other. Even with those that have some clue of how conferences are organized (like Sheeri, since she's made her opinion public today I'll name her as a good example of this category) it seemed like they didn't have concrete plans going on. Should it be at Collaborate? Should it be somewhere else? None of these discussions involved things like a person having actually looked at available venues and having a budget and committed personnel to execute it.
There are no doubt people in the MySQL community that have experience in organizing community run conferences. Such as Giuseppe and Sheeri. Those conferences exist and are called OpenSQLCamp. This was the impression I got from discussions around a community organized event: Something that looks like OpenSQLCamp, a small and relatively non-commercial 2 day conference with maybe 200 geeks attending. Not at all something that would have looked like the MySQL conference that we know. Seeing that the North American community hasn't even organized an OpenSQLCamp this year - if this invigorates them to organize a community run event, that's great! We need more OpenSQLCamps. And we also need something that looks like the MySQL conference we used to know and OpenSQLCamp isn't it.
4) There was also a variation of the community organized event in that the IOUG should organize it. I hope you'll forgive me if I don't agree that IOUG would even qualify as a neutral party, but sure, if they could do something that could make Oracle's MySQL engineers to join, that would be great. In fact, that was the topic of the very first email I sent to Sarah Novotny, chair of their MySQL council, when I came home from the previous MySQL conference in April. I haven't heard they would've made any headway in talking to Oracle on this issue. I just don't see that the Oracle User Group is able to tell Oracle what to do, I've seen it more like Oracle tells its users what to do.
Of the IOUG MySQL council I have only talked to Sheeri, so it's of course possible someone else than her at the IOUG had well developed plans to organize something. I kind of doubt it though. If they had any plans, they sure hadn't involved me, nor many others I've talked to. So if it existed, is it fair to say it wasn't even very community focused? But I don't think it existed.
Then finally we have Oracle. We should have a conference where also Oracle engineers participate. You know what? We've been telling Oracle that for the past 2½ years now. Baron of all people made a clear invitation to Oracle in his keynote last April - Oracle needs to commit to its own community. But the reality was the opposite. Both of the previous years they've boycotted the MySQL conference - their own conference! - they explicitly forbid their employees to submit any talks and only due to some last minute compromises with O'Reilly did they eventually send a few speakers, but not nearly as many as MySQL AB used to do. Yes, it's unlikely that Oracle will be speaking at Percona's conference, but you know what, it was also unlikely they would show up at O'Reillys conference anymore.
Oracle has turned it's back on the MySQL community, and we are just left to accept that. If you want to hear Oracle engineers speak, there are plenty of opportunities at other conferences, in particular Oracle OpenWorld. You won't find much of the rest of the community at those conferences, but that's where Oracle wants to send its employees.
The upside: We have lots of conferences now
Sometimes I'm either saddened or frustrated that our community is so fractured, it seems like a lot of energy and opportunities are wasted by dividing effort in too many camps. However, today I am not! Why not? The fact that everyone is now doing so many conferences is a great thing! I think it's great that OpenWorld and Collaborate and Kaleidoscope and dozens of regional IOUG events have dedicated MySQL tracks where we are reaching people we never reached before. I think it is great that Baron started the OpenSQLCamp, which others have then followed up on, so that there would also be a community run, heavily MySQL dominated, conference.
And I've been watching in awe the growth of the Percona Live events and am looking forward to attending my first one later this Autumn. Do you remember that the whole reason Percona got into the conference business lies with a MySQL conference controversy? It was when the MySQL/Sun community team, that is Giuseppe and Kaj - executing orders from Mårten of course - published a MySQL conference program without a single Percona talk (and also without any Open Query talk, another rising MySQL competitor at the time). This lead to the birth of a one day Percona Performance conference which we now know as Percona Live. (It also backfired on MySQL executives who then had to let Percona into the main conference anyway, followed by a department-wide email from CTO Bob Brewin essentially telling the executives to be ashamed of their behavior.) To see Percona Live now replacing the original MySQL conference, and to think that Peter Zaitsev will now be giving the opening keynote: There's some epic justice in all this - and I hope remembering this background also puts in perspective some other commentaries you may have seen on Planet MySQL today.
See you there
While we are fortunate to have so many conferences that reach out to so many people, it is also great to see a continuation of *The* MySQL conference. In this distressed community of ours, it has a function of bringing people together which goes beyond what the other conferences do.
There was a serious risk we wouldn't have such a conference next year. Percona has now solved this problem for us. If you look beyond all the whining of a few people that have much to say but no conference to offer, you can see some good news: Sheeri (PalominoDB) wants to go there. Marco (Pythian) wants to go there. I will be there. I hope you will be there too!