Percona’s mini-conferences target the evolution of MySQL

I had a talk yesterday about the progress of MySQL with Baron Schwartz, lead author of O’Reilly’s book High Performance MySQL. He’s Chief Performance Architect at Percona, the dominant company for MySQL tools and support outside MySQL’s owner, Oracle. View his keynote, received with wild enthusiasm, from O’Reilly’s MySQL conference to get his take on the future of databases.

Percona is on a roll to becoming big players in the computer field, and among other activities they have been putting on short conferences around the Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Lots of expertise and collaboration takes place in that area. But they have found that there are large communities of MySQL users in other parts of the country who are not meeting as frequently with each other or with experts from other areas. So they’ve kicked off an international conference tour, which began in San Francisco earlier this year and continues this month with Percona Live in New York on May 26.

I attended part of Percona’s first conference, which was held in parallel with a MySQL conference in Santa Clara, California and consisted of an unbroken series of talks that were heavily detailed to point of being intimidating. Baron says this conference will be more conventional, offering a variety of sessions along with plenty of networking time and an evening party.

Baron said that back in 2007, an informal MySQL camp was organized in New York by Jay Pipes, a MySQL employee and author. Other than this one-time event and some other local meet-up groups, New York hasn’t seen a MySQL conference, and this one will bring together “some of the most knowledgeable speakers in the MySQL world.” A lot of these will come from Percona, which speaks well for the conference in itself. Baron and Percona founder Peter Zaitsev (also a key High Performance MySQL author) are popular speakers, well recognized as experts in the field, particularly concerning the InnoDB storage engine, to which Percona has contributed numerous enhancements and optimizations.

By bringing in top talent and providing networking opportunities, Baron hopes to strengthen local ecosystems where conferences are held–ecosystems explicitly supportive of third-party vendors. He is particularly interested in promoting companies that facilitate the use of MySQL in various cloud settings, and companies building relational databases that are truly scalable to large clusters of machines. He sees both as inevitable steps in the evolution of databases. “Current cloud computing providers don’t address what I see as the most common need in upcoming years: high-performance single-instance databases, rather than armies of low-end machines that can’t provide good database performance.” As he suggested in a test with real-life data, I/O can be slow and highly variable.

Furthermore, current relational databases have both scale-up and scale-out limitations that prevent them from taking advantage of today’s most powerful hardware and from handling today’s largest workloads, which require scaling across many machines, no matter how powerful they are.

He considers cloud computing, in particular, to be very early in its lifecycle, and predicts that the hype and confusion will ultimately resolved into a few key principles and practices of great value, some of which may be non-obvious or even unimagined today. Relational databases present difficulties in the cloud that most servers don’t face, because databases are all about persistence and cloud computing is about the constant destruction and reconstruction of program instances. I’m sure you’ll hear more about this at a Percona conference.

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