Open-source database maker MySQL is close to releasing the alpha version of its Falcon storage engine, designed for high-volume web servers.

News of the release slipped out early, but Falcon should be available for download within a week, said Kaj Arnö, vice president of community relations for MySQL.

The version will work with MySQL's 5.1 release but existing data will have to be migrated to the new Falcon format. The company stressed that Falcon is for evaluation only.

The alpha release will be used to refine the storage engine's features and performance, which will then be followed by a beta version focusing on bug fixes, Arnö said. No timetable for a beta release has been set, as it will depend on how its development progresses, he said.

MySQL's database is unique in that several storage engines can be employed depending on the how the database will be used.

Other companies, such as Google and the social networking site Friendster, have also developed their own storage engines, which MySQL encourages by offering an application programming interface to connect to its database.

The Falcon project started after one of the most popular storage engines, InnoDB, came under the wing of competitor Oracle after an acquisition in late 2005. In August, MySQL also dropped support for the lesser-used BerkeleyDB storage engine, also now controlled by Oracle after its purchase of SleepyCat Software in early 2006.

Arnö said it's too early to tell if Falcon will be more popular with users than InnoDB.

"That's for our user base to decide," Arnö said. "I do think this will constitute a very good alternative for Web 2.0 applications."

Falcon works with 32-bit Windows systems and both 32- and 64-bit Linux systems, although additional platforms will be added in forthcoming releases.

The storage engine is geared for high-performance environments while still supporting transactional and logging requirements, according to MySQL.