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March 5, 2015

Where Does InfiniDB Go From Here?

Last September, the company behind InfiniDB, Calpont, went out of business. Up stepped MariaDB, the company behind the open source relational database, to serve as a steward for the product and provide support to customers. The big question on everybody’s mind is, where does the product go from here?

InfiniDB is a columnar database management system designed to power analytic applications. Originally debuting in the year 2000, the software was built upon the MySQL database and includes its own SQL engine that parallelizes queries and executes them on a cluster of commodity hardware, similar to the MapReduce-style of computing.

One of the big advantages that InfiniDB had over other massively parallel processing (MPP) databases like Teradata, Vertica, and Greenplum was affordability. Because it ran atop MySQL and used MySQL interfaces, Calpont could undercut its competitors on price. This superior price/performance led InfiniDB to attract some significant customers, including Warner Music Group, Caring Bridge, and other companies in the government and telecommunications sector.

When Calpont filed for bankruptcy protection in Texas last fall, MariaDB decided to take over the care and feeding of the product and the 30 or so customers who continue to rely on it. Several of MariaDB’s biggest customers were also InfiniDB users, so it was a good fit, says Roger Levy, vice president of products for MariaDB, which changed its name from SkySQL last year.

Levy and other members of the MariaDB team were in San Jose, California, for the recent Strata + Hadoop World conference. “One of the reasons we’re here at Strata is to get a sense of the market and what strategic direction would be good for InfiniDB,” Levy tells Datanami. “InfiniDB is a great piece of technology. It’s a great product. The question is with, everything that’s going on,” what’s the best approach going forward.

One of the possibilities is to integrate InfiniDB with MariaDB. MariaDB, of course, was created by Monty Widenius and David Axemark, who also created MySQL and co-founded a company of the same name. (MySQL was named after Widenius’ eldest daughter, My, while MariaDB was named after his youngest daughter, Maria.)infinidb_logo

It would take some work to get InfiniDB running atop MariaDB, which is a fork of MySQL that Widenius and other MySQL developers created to overcome some of the limitations around MySQL, particularly when it comes to performance at scale. There’s also the potential to continue operating IniniDB as a separate entity.

The choice is not clear. The MPP market is extremely competitive at the moment, with SQL-on-Hadoop offerings like Impala, Hive, HAWQ, Drill, and Vortex going up against more traditional enterprise data warehouse (EDW) vendors like Teradata, Oracle, IBM, Exasol, Actian, and Hewlett-Packard. (InfiniDB also offers a Hadoop connector.) Then there is a matter of Pivotal‘s recent decision to put the highly regarded Greenplum database in the open source realm, which further complicates matters for MariaDB.

“It’s early days. We’ve just taken this product on,” Levy says. “We sort of got into it in a less than optimal way. When Calpont went out of business, we had a lot of our very best customers using it, and we provided assistance to them.”

MariaDB, which has about 500 customers and about 80 employees, brought in three of the InfiniDB engineers and one of the product specialists, Levy says. “We’re providing the continued support within those large companies.”

But now that MariaDB owns InfiniDB, now what? “Frankly it will require more of an investment. Do we really want to take it forward and integrate it with MariaDB and keep up with the feature-functionality war that’s going around? Seeing what people are doing, there’s a lot of work we would need to do. That’s what we’re trying to assess. Is it worth the run?”

Only time will tell. In the meantime, MariaDB continues to its work to make its open source database the premier alternative to MySQL. The company recently launched MaxScale, which is short for “Maximum Scale” and serves as an “intelligent proxy” that sits between the MariaDB database and the application layer. (A separate database product, called MaxDB, was named after Widenius’ son).

In addition to providing support for less-structured data types, such as JSON (currently on the roadmap), MariaDB is counting on MaxScale to boost performance of the database through features like “read/write splitting,” which the company says optimizes the master/slave architecture and delivers better throughput.

MariaDB, which was placed in the “Leaders” quadrant in Gartner’s latest report on the database business, also holds what it hopes is an ace up its sleeve: support for IBM’s Power8 processor.

“We did some optimizations on MariaDB to take advantage of the memory bandwidth” available in the Power8 processor, Levy says. The thread-hungry MariaDB also feasts upon Power8’s eight threads per core, compared to Intel’s four-threaded cores. Benchmark results show MariaDB running on Power8 offers a 2.2x performance advantage compared to running on the latest Intel “Sandybridge” processors.

“IBM is taking MariaDB on the road, and prominently featuring the database running on entry-level Power servers running Linux,” Levy says. “It’s nice to have IBM’s support.”

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