Pervasive Seeds an Open-Source EcoSystem

Opinion: Pervasive's packaging of open-source database PostgreSQL says a lot about the need for ecosystems of third-party support around open-source databases before they can take root in the enterprise.

A long-time ruler in the realm of embedded databases is busting out of that paradigm and eyeing the enterprise database market, with Mondays announcement that Pervasive is packaging up PostgreSQL with drivers and tools in a free package.

Its a smart move, and it says a lot about the need for ecosystems of third-party supporting companies to flourish around open-source databases before they can really take root in the enterprise.

Now, whereas open-source database maker MySQL AB has almost 800 supporting companies, PostgreSQL has never had anything close to that. PostgreSQL has an active community base, but the number of big-name companies supporting it is nonexistent.

Indeed, Pervasive is the first one. There are 29 commercial support providers listed on PostgreSQLs site. Im sure most, if not all, of those 29 are great support companies, but they are names that most enterprises have never heard.

Until the PostgreSQL project can drop names such as Embarcadero, GoldenGate, HP, Novell, Quest, SAP and Veritas—as can MySQL, with whom those big players partner—it will continue to be known only to the open-source elite.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about MySQL 4.1.

Does it matter whether a good piece of open-source software gets picked up by the masses? After all, theres no company to profit from mass adoption. Whats the harm in being known mostly by the open-source cognoscenti (which, when youre talking about PostgreSQL, is comprised largely of telecom companies that embed the software)?

It does matter, in terms of getting the most appropriate tool into a given company and task. If its simply modest mindshare, few open-source gurus on staff and/or lack of database buzz that prevent a company from knowing about PostgreSQL—or any other open-source database, for that matter, such as Berkeley DB or Cloudscape—and that keeps them assuming that MySQL is the only real open-source database game in town, thats not a good thing.

And, after all, PostgreSQL has a long, respected history, coming from the same team who brought Ingres into being. Heres the history in a nutshell, as cribbed from a recent report by Forrester Researchs Noel Yuhanna, titled "Open Source Databases Come of Age."

"PostgreSQL has good features with moderate adoption. PostgreSQL and Ingres share a family history; both were created by Michael Stonebraker and his grad students at Berkeley. Because of this, PostgreSQL has strong enterprise DBMS features and functionality.

"PostgreSQL is a full, relational DBMS with core transactional capability like ACID properties and deadlock detection. It has many database features that are essential for business applications, such as triggers, functions, BLOBs and views. The current version supports stored procedures using functions, but 100 percent SQL-syntax compatible stored procedures will be available in Version 8.1."

Its not just an overflowing feature set that makes a database appropriate for a task, of course. Jason Bailey, a reader who manages the Web program for two small sister newspapers, pointed out to me that MySQL still has the edge for him as a Web developer because of its "seamless integration" with Apache and PHP.

"PostgreSQL does have an excellent feature set, and is very capable, but not everyone needs all those features," he said in a recent e-mail exchange. "Often those features are overkill, especially for SMBs who are looking for simple solutions that will run on cheap hardware. … Both [MySQL and PostgreSQL] have strong feature sets."

But performance is king, Bailey pointed out. Linux is powering his primary Web server, running the LAMP setup. The advertising engine and message boards are powered by PHP and MySQL, using MyISAM tables, primarily for minimized overhead and faster read speed. When it comes to MySQLs lack of support for transactions, he can just run InnoDB tables. "You just cant beat the performance," he said of the overall setup.

Obviously, its all about getting the best fit for the task at hand. But there are other reasons for getting PostgreSQL the buzz it deserves, including making the supporting community as large and active as possible, thereby enhancing not only the products development but also competition amongst open-source databases. Thats always a good thing.

But do PostgreSQL users even need a big company to come in and help them out with support packages, tools, migration and custom development packages, all of which it is most certainly not giving away for free?

Marc Fournier, president of PostgreSQL support company PostgreSQL Inc., said a lot of his clients dont necessarily use tools, except maybe at the markup level, because theyre generally using the language as an interface that is not necessarily tools-compatible.

"For instance, when youre dealing with telephony or embedded applications, the tools are only so good," he told me. "The applications are so very, very specific that trying to get into a generalized environment, which tools generally do, tends to be more difficult."

It will be interesting to see how the community that uses PostgreSQL, and the purposes for which it is used, change when there are more formalized tools and support mechanisms available.

Write to me at Associate Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.

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