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MariaDB X4 brings smart transactions to open source database

Open source database vendor MariaDB updates its flagship platform with new features to enable the convergence of transactional and analytical databases.

MariaDB has come a long way from its MySQL database roots. The open source database vendor released its new MariaDB X4 platform, providing users with "smart transactions" technology to enable both analytical and transactional databases.

MariaDB, based in Redwood City, Calif., was founded in 2009 by the original creator of MySQL, Monty Widenius, as a drop-in replacement for MySQL, after Widenius grew disillusioned with the direction that Oracle was taking the open source database.

Oracle acquired MySQL via its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2008. Now, in 2020, MariaDB still uses the core MySQL database protocol, but the MariaDB database has diverged significantly in other ways that are manifest in the X4 platform update.

The MariaDB X4 release, unveiled Jan. 14, puts the technology squarely in the cloud-native discussion, notably because MariaDB is allowing for specific workloads to be paired with specific storage types at the cloud level, said James Curtis, senior analyst of data, AI and analytics at 451 Research.

"There are a lot of changes that they implemented, including new and improved storage engines, but the thing that stands out are the architectural adjustments made that blend row and columnar storage at a much deeper level -- a change likely to appeal to many customers," Curtis said.

Image showing MariaDB X4 database architecture
MariaDB X4 database architecture

MariaDB X4 smart transactions converges database functions

The divergence with MySQL has ramped up over the past three years, said Shane Johnson, senior director of product marketing at MariaDB. In recent releases MariaDB has added Oracle database compatibility, which MySQL does not include, he noted.

In addition, MariaDB's flagship platform provides a database firewall and dynamic data masking, both features designed to improve security and data privacy. The biggest difference today, though, between MariaDB and MySQL is how MariaDB supports pluggable storage engines, which gain new functionality in the X4 update.

The thing that stands out are the architectural adjustments made that blend row and columnar storage at a much deeper level -- a change likely to appeal to many customers.
James CurtisSenior analyst of data, AI and analytics, 451 Research

Previously when using the pluggable storage engine, users would deploy an instance of MariaDB for transactional use cases with the InnoDB storage engine and another instance with the ColumnStore columnar storage engine for analytics, Johnson explained.

In earlier releases, a Change Data Capture process synchronized those two databases. In the MariaDB X4 update, transactional and analytical features have been converged in an approach that MariaDB calls smart transactions.

"So, when you install MariaDB, you get all the existing storage engines, as well as ColumnStore, allowing you to mix and match to use row and columnar data to do transactions and analytics, very simply, and very easily," Johnson said.

MariaDB X4 aligns cloud storage

Another new capability in MariaDB X4 is the ability to more efficiently use cloud storage back ends.

"Each of the storage mediums is optimized for a different workload," Johnson said.

For example, Johnson noted that Amazon Web Service's S3 is a good fit for analytics, because of its high-availability and capacity. He added that for transactional applications with row-based storage, Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) is a better fit. The ability to mix and match both EBS and S3 in the MariaDB X4 platform makes it easier for users to consolidate both analytics and transactional workloads in the database.

"The update for X4 is not so much that you can run MariaDB in the cloud, because you've always been able to do that, but rather that you can run it with smart transactions and have it optimized for cloud storage services," Johnson said.

MariaDB database as a service (DBaaS) is coming

MariaDB said it plans to expand its portfolio further this year.

The core MariaDB open source community project is currently at version 10.4, with plans for version 10.5, which will include the smart transactions capabilities, to debut sometime in the coming weeks, according to MariaDB.

The new smart transaction capabilities have already landed in the MariaDB Enterprise 10.4 update. The MariaDB Enterprise Server has more configuration settings and hardening for enterprise use cases.

The full MariaDB X4 platform goes a step further with the MariaDB MaxScale database proxy, which provides automatic failover, transaction replay and a database firewall, as well as utilities that developers need to build database applications.

Johnson noted that traditionally new features tend to land in the community version first, but as it happened, during this cycle MariaDB developers were able to get the features into the enterprise release quicker.

MariaDB has plans to launch a new DBaaS product this year. Users can already deploy MariaDB to a cloud of choice on their own. MariaDB also has a managed service that provides full management for a MariaDB environment.

"With the managed service, we take care of everything for our customers, where we deploy MariaDB on their cloud of choice and we will manage it, administer it, operate and upgrade, it," Johnson said. "We will have our own database as a service rolling out this year, which will provide an even better option."

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