At Last, a Worthy Open-Source Alternative to Oracle

Opinion: Given PostgreSQL's devoted fan base, it was only a matter of time before a company like EnterpriseDB stepped in to provide enterprise-level support.

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People frequently and erroneously allude to the open-source database MySQL as a potential threat to the dominance of the database king, Oracle.

Its erroneous because MySQL, good as it is for certain purposes, such as running Web sites, has lacked enterprise-class features such as triggers, views and stored procedures for so long that developers barely acknowledge the fact that the next production release of MySQL will have those crucial elements.

PostgreSQL, on the other hand … now theres an open-source database that could give Oracle a run for its money.

Along with Ingres, PostgreSQL was created by Michael Stonebraker at Berkeley. Its a full relational database with core transactional capabilities such as ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) properties and deadlock detection, and its got all the goodies enterprises need: triggers, functions, BLOBs (binary large objects) and views. It supports stored procedures using functions pre-Version 8.1 and will use SQL syntax-compatible stored procedures in Version 8.1.

What PostgreSQL has lacked is a large company with a sound strategy for offering multiple levels of support to back it up, as MySQL has been smart enough to offer for some time. After all, practically every study you read cites lack of support as a major disincentive to adopt open-source databases.

With such a devoted fan base as PostgreSQL has, it was only a matter of time before somebody stepped in to fill this hole. As eWEEK.coms Darryl Taft reported on Monday, that somebody, or somebodies, to be more accurate, came out of WebMethods when EnterpriseDB launched on Monday with the help of a slew of ex-WebMethods people on its executive team and as financial backers.

The beta version of the companys flagship product, EnterpriseDB 2005, is based on PostgreSQL and supports high-volume applications and update-intensive situations. Its downloadable now.

/zimages/7/28571.gifRead more here about the recent launch of EnterpriseDB.

The company has some 45 employees, of which about one-fourth are devoted to customer support. Theyll be giving away support until the product hits general availability, around July, at which point enterprises can a pick from various tiers of support in a subscription model.

The prospect of support for such a heavy-duty open-source database is obviously appealing. Beyond that, EnterpriseDB has been doing some tweaking of the code base. CEO Andy Astor, who was in charge of WebMethods Web services strategy and execution, told me that the main focus of this release is compatibility—with Oracle databases, in particular, and with commercial enterprise databases in general.

"The whole point of this release is weve made it compatible with Oracle," he said.

For example, the SQL syntax, data types, triggers and PL/SQL have been modified to be Oracle-compatible, which will make both applications and skills easy to transfer.

How slick is that? That is uberslick. The world needs an enterprise database that doesnt cost tens of thousands of dollars per processor. In Forrester Researchs "Open Source Databases Come Of Age" white paper, Noel Yuhanna writes that commercial enterprise DBMS licenses currently cost an average of $25,000 per processor. You know that Oracles processor costs are upwards of that.

To answer the need, EnterpriseDB is bringing the mountain to Mohammed, Astor said: "The world has built its database empire on a certain class of enterprise-class database, so if they all have to be retrained," it just aint gonna happen.

The company made EDB compatible with Oracle syntax, data types and stored procedures, so all applications can run unchanged, and people can come over very quickly, with the feel of an Oracle database that will give you the comfort of familiarity, Astor said. Also, PostgreSQL is more ANSI-compliant than the major commercial databases, giving EDB another boost in terms of easy interoperability and skills transfer.

Sounds great. But what does the community think? I called up Bruce Momjian, core member of the PostgreSQL development team, to get the word. Hes pleased with how EnterpriseDB is working with the open-source community instead of going against it, which happens all too often.

What does working with the community mean, exactly? It means coming to the community to get the thumbs-up on how the commercial venture intends to add on to the code base, plus how it intends to feed its improvements back into that base.

It also means hiring people from the community to work on the commercial version, which EnterpriseDB is reportedly doing.

As Momjian put it, staying just two steps ahead of the community and then circling back to share enhancements will make sure that the code base will be maintained, and it wont leave the community in the dust.

Good, all good. As far as the tweaks EnterpriseDB has made to the code base go, Momjian says its a neat approach, taking PostgreSQL and "adding tinsel" around the Oracle parts.

"Thats something we dont do as a community because we found that if we support the ANSI stuff and Oracle stuff together, the product gets very confusing from a user prospective," Momjian said. "[Users ask,] Do I do my joins this way or that way? We come back and say, You can do it the Oracle or the ANSI way. If you go too far down the road of compatibility, and offer dual functionality, documentation gets very complicated. So we stayed away. If the standard doesnt say anything, we look to Oracle or Informix to see how to go."

Its exciting to get yet another thriving company behind PostgreSQL. The momentum around this open-source database has been building, what with Pervasives recent commercial packaging of PostgreSQL.

The commercial interest fuels the growing interest on the part of enterprises, in particular the public sector. Recent examples include state governments such as Hawaii lining up to migrate to PostgreSQL, and the U.S. National Weather Service having switched its internal systems to PostgreSQL/Linux after getting zapped with an outrageous licensing bill from its use of HP Unix.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read about the PostgreSQL Global Development Groups Windows version of the open-source database.

Is EnterpriseDB ready to take on Oracle? No smart people Ive ever met have had the hubris to make such a bold statement—at least, not on the first day of their company launch. A lot of people run their businesses on Oracle databases today, and theyre not likely to say, "Oh, heres something to replace Oracle tomorrow."

So for now, look for EnterpriseDB to establish street cred in the open-source database market as it gives MySQL a run for its money. But after a decent amount of time, look for it to be a growing irritant in the eyes of Oracle and the other commercial vendors.

Let me know what you think after youve downloaded and started to play with EDB. Write to me at News Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.

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