Advocates of PostgreSQL say the open-source database is continuing to slowly win converts even as it remains in the shadow of the more widely used MySQL.
PostgreSQL has come a long way technically since its inception in the 1980s, when it was known as Postgres. Today it remains sufficiently modern and relevant to developers, and it is one of the lower-cost open-source alternatives to proprietary products, advocates say.
A recent survey of 226 members of the Independent Oracle Users Group released last month found that 74 percent of the respondents who are using open-source and Express edition databases use MySQL, while 20 percent use PostgreSQL. Nine percent of respondents reported using PostgreSQL in an IOUG survey in 2006.
"It's very hard to unseat an entrenched solution in any market, and all of the commercial vendors [IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and MySQL] are certainly firmly entrenched, but I think PostgreSQL is moving in the right direction," said Robert Treat, database architect at OmniTI Computer Consulting in Columbia, Md.
Treat, who has been recognized as a major contributor to PostgreSQL, claims key factors in the growth of PostgreSQL are friendly licensing and a general movement toward open-source software by enterprises looking to cut costs. Name recognition also plays no small part, as mainstream technology companies such as Sony and Apple have taken to using PostgreSQL-based solutions, he added.
Overall, the adoption of open-source databases has been strong when compared with commercial closed-source databases, according to Noel Yuhanna, an analyst with Forrester Research. He estimated the open-source database market to be around $650 million including new licenses, software maintenance and support, and consulting services. A recent Forrester survey revealed 32 percent of enterprises have at least one open-source database in their environment, up from about 11 percent in 2003, he added.
"[The] majority of the deployment of open-source databases is around MySQL, and that has not changed," Yuhanna said. "Although PostgreSQL adoption has grown, the biggest challenge has been that no vendor until more recently pushed this software commercially—it's always been community-driven. However, with EnterpriseDB and Sun Microsystems committing to support PostgreSQL, there has been some headway, but much work needs to be done to increase its adoption."
EnterpriseDB, which has based its Advanced Server product on Postgres, has positioned itself in the market as a leading provider of professional, round-the-clock PostgreSQL technical support, services and training.
"EnterpriseDB chose [PostgreSQL] because of the advanced technical capabilities of the database and the ease of extending it," said Bruce Momjian, PostgreSQL community leader and senior database architect at EnterpriseDB. "I think we [PostgreSQL] are on par with MySQL in terms of ease of use."
The open-source community is leery of EnterpriseDB's efforts to market a commercial version of PostgreSQL. Read why.
"In terms of community adoption, we have a lot of users coming from commercial databases, while I believe MySQL is mostly new Web applications," Momjian continued. "Our [PostgreSQL] user base is mostly companies that have large data needs—[for example] the National Weather Service runs PostgreSQL—or have tight profit margins."
The key drivers for increased open-source database adoption in general continue to be cost, support from more vendors and expansion of the ecosystem—tools, applications and services, Yuhanna said. Key challenges that are keeping adoption from moving faster are migration efforts, long-term ROI when training, migration and integration, and administration, he added. There are also continuing concerns about security and performance, he said.
"Open-source databases are free, but that does not mean that they cost nothing," Yuhanna said.
Right now, PostgreSQL suffers from a lack of ubiquity other products have—there are fewer third-party applications, and fewer instructional articles and books—but it is nearing a tipping point, Treat observed.
"As more people use it, and more people are vocal about using it, I think you are really going to see a snowball effect," he said.
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