Open-Source Database Technologies Flourish at LinuxWorld

Updated: Microsoft can snipe all it wants, but news coming out of LinuxWorld shows one thing: With the database at the center, enterprise applications are thriving in an increasingly rich Linux ecosystem.

Microsoft can snipe all it wants at the TCO and security of open source, but a flood of database-, BI- and data-center-related news coming out of LinuxWorld means one thing: Linux has drilled so far down into overall IT frameworks that its simply another option on the short list.

Commercialization of open source is one trend evident at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, and its being reflected big-time in database-centric offerings.

"Were seeing the notion that open-source products have a very, very viable business model and have established themselves as credible players," said Steve OGrady, an analyst at RedMonk.

"While they dont play in exactly the same markets and dont compete feature-to-feature with proprietary [solutions], theres a sizable market thats not interested in all the bells and whistles included with proprietary vendors."

Acceptance of the commercial open-source model is more evident than ever. The database is, and will always be, a critical component of the application stack, OGrady said. And as LinuxWorld shows, options for that stack are viable and vibrant.

MySQL AB had two whoppers this week. First, Dell Inc.s announcement on Monday that it would resell MySQLs open-source database, along with the other components of the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Python/Perl) stack, is both an indication of the widening spread of the stack and of this enormously popular database.

Dell is shipping the LAMP stack with the PowerEdge 830 and PowerEdge 850 servers, both Intel chip-based servers.

OGrady said that such a big-volume play means that MySQL is going to get a crack at entering enterprises up and down the scale.

"Dell sells to folks up and down the stack, but there are a lot of businesses buying Dell on the price," he said. "Theyre buying cheap boxes because thats a smart use of their money."

MySQLs second big reseller score came with the announcement on Tuesday that Novell Inc. will offer subscriptions to the MySQL Network, a subscription offering that includes MySQL software; updates and upgrades; alerts and advisers; MySQLs online knowledgebase; and full, production-level technical support.

The companies say that this is the only accord of its kind between a Linux vendor and MySQL. Of course, many MySQL users already run on SuSE Linux.

But gaining access to Novells customer base, which numbers more than 50,000 users in 43 countries, is a giant leap for this small database company.

The broadening of what was already a close relationship between the two companies will only stand to drive open-source databases deeper into the enterprise, across a much larger spectrum of organizations.

Partnering with these two tech giants means that MySQL will be able to reach into accounts it might not have accessed on its own.

The reseller agreements will enable the database—and, potentially, the company that sells services around it—to push past alternatives.

And such alternatives are many: Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server is a viable database candidate in the SMB (small to midsize business) space, as is the companys ever-popular Access database.

A step up the ladder, companies with a few hundred or even thousand employees run things a little differently: They tend to get their stacks from local systems integrators that then manage the stacks.

On that level, open-source databases such as MySQL could be coming up against commercial databases that include the big three: IBMs DB2, SQL Server or Oracle.

Will Dell reselling be the final push to make an open-source database chomp at the heels of the database titans?

Stacey Quandt, an analyst with Quandt Analytics, said that such growing market opportunities for open-source solutions are "inevitable" and will put pressure on the proprietary vendors, but were still only talking about competition at the bottom rungs.

"The database-, BI- and data-center-specific offerings are interesting because they give users more choice and broaden the support for Linux," she said. "The challenge for established vendors is that as open-source alternatives gain maturity, this will place pressure from below on the likes of SAS, Cognos, Oracle and DB2."

MySQL has, indeed, appealed at the lower end, for use in running lightweight applications.

MySQL AB has long positioned its database as being a commodity—something you can plug in to do routine tasks, where the full-featured relational databases would be overkill.

But open-source databases as a whole have a lot more to offer than merely catering to that humble niche, as startup EnterpriseDB Corp. is eager to point out.

On Tuesday EnterpriseDB launched the final version of its flagship EnterpriseDB 2005 database, released in beta this spring.

The PostgreSQL-based database, which the company seeks to position as the enterprise-class database of choice, supports high-volume applications and update-intensive situations. It delivers Oracle compatibility and performance enhancements over its open-source base, PostgreSQL.

What does Oracle compatibility mean? Unlike MySQL, this open-source database purveyor seeks to do no less than unseat Oracle, the King Kong of databases in terms of features, functionality and cost.

Indeed, these are heady times when it comes to the increasingly rich ecosystem of both open-source enterprise applications and new Linux versions of enterprise applications.

Business Objects S.A., for one, on Tuesday released a Linux version of its XI platform, including both BusinessObjects XI and its Crystal Reports Server XI.

Already available for Windows and Unix, the XI platform combines query, reporting and analysis technology from Crystal Decisions Crystal Reporting, Crystal Enterprise and Crystal Analysis products with several pieces of Business Objects BI technology.

The XI products now will support Novells SuSE Linux Enterprise and Red Hat Inc.s Enterprise Linux—a decision Business Objects management says will help to drive adoption of Linux.

The support for Linux will be welcomed by Business Objects customers who are moving to that operating system. But what about those customers seeking open-source alternatives to their pricey enterprise applications?

James Thomas, director of product marketing for Business Objects, said that open-source alternatives are "on the radar" for some BI customers. Still, he said, enterprises are looking to big proprietary players for software, training, services, support and domain expertise.

"Having a good product is one thing," he said. "Being a provider of BI is quite another. Thats why customers continue to invest in top-tier vendors.

Next Page: Theres more XML in the future for open-source databases.