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Open Source Database Management Systems: What the Pros Use

By Jack M. Germain
Apr 30, 2007 4:00 AM PT

Databases have been a tool for business and research analysis since computers replaced typewriters in the workplace. Once the domain of proprietary database management programs, database development is now seeing more influence from open source programming.

Open Source Database Management Systems: What the Pros Use

Several industry surveys show a trend among small to mid-sized businesses of at least trying open source database programs. Those survey results show a growing satisfaction in open source databases along with an expanding adoption rate.

For example, studies show a four in 10 adoption rate among enterprise organizations. Some 70 percent of open source developers say feedback from users shows high satisfaction with their results.

Two key features that successful open source databases need in order to become replacements for established proprietary products are a strong backup function and the ability to handle the increasing business load.

"We see adoptions of three open source programs in large organizations as well," Mark Voholt, CTO of dbaDirect, told LinuxInsider. His company provides monitoring and support administrative services for database users. "Open source databases are coming out from behind the curtain," he said.

Winning Trio

Poor database design and incorrect or inefficient use of the database are among the most common causes of inefficient applications. Only two or three open source database applications will survive to dominate the field. MySQL Enterprise is the pack leader now, with few contenders available to be taken seriously, according to Voholt, who expects to see a mini-shakeup in the database software industry.

Self standardization will filter out the ineffective products, he believes. MySQL was the first open source database to go up against the established commercial database vendors such as Oracle. MySQL developed a religious following over the last five years, noted Voholt.

MySQL runs on more than 20 platforms, including Linux, Windows, OS X and HP-UX (Hewlett-Packard Unix) and AIX (IBM's Advanced Interactive eXecutive). The Enterprise Server 5.0 version includes several new features: the Enterprise Installer and Configuration Wizard; triggers to enforce complex business rules at the database level; and distributed transactions to support complex transactions across multiple databases.

Besides MySQL, two other top contenders are Firebird and PostgreSQL 8.2, offered Voholt.

Firebird is a relational database management system offering many ANSI SQL standard features. It runs on Linux, Windows and numerous Unix platforms. A commercially independent project of C and C++ programmers, the Firebird Project is based on the source code released by Borland Software, formerly known as "Inprise Corp.," in July of 2000.

PostgreSQL is an enterprise class relational database system with more than 15 years of active development. It runs on the major operating systems, such as Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, Solaris and Windows. It has native programming interfaces for C/C++, Java, .Net, Perl, Python, Ruby, TCL and ODBC. It is highly scalable in terms of both the quantity of data and the number of concurrent users it can manage.

A Different Flavor

Greenplum founders set out last year to launch their vision of a next-generation open source database. The company's high-end commercial product, Greenplum Database, runs on Red Hat Linux and Open Solaris. It was engineered around the increasing availability of inexpensive servers, storage and high-speed switches. Designed for large enterprise deployments, it utilizes multiple machine clusters.

The company's alternative free database product is Bizgres, designed to run on a single machine at departmental data marts and smaller enterprise warehouses. Bizgres focuses on supporting business intelligence applications. Developed as the Bizgres Project, a community-supported open source project, Bizgres is a comprehensive database platform that runs on top of PostgreSQL.

"Scaling a database is still a challenge to not use huge computing systems to run them," explained Scott Yara, co-owner and president of Greenplum.

Twenty years ago, scaling databases were the hottest thing in the market. Then interest cooled. The Internet and advances in scaling technology are producing a resurgence now, according to Yara. "Now, databases are designed to new forms of scale that we haven't seen before."

New Business Needs

Administrators today are looking for a self-serve model. Business managers do not want to deal with hordes of sales staff when they can download the database and get it working with community source help, noted Yara. MySQL set the stage for this ability to avoid corporate structure.

A changing business market also contributed to the adoption of open source databases. The one-size-fits-all database design no longer works. Other business intelligence needs are not being met. The open source structure means users are not locked into proprietary applications, according to Yara.

"The Web applications market was atypical. Other markets like Web intelligence and analytics don't fit into the database model needed now. Neither Oracle nor MySQL was designed for business intelligence," said Yara. "Instead, developers can dedicate a healthy community around ... particular database problems to be solved."

Stacking Problems

Another challenge business administrators face in selecting a suitable database management application is the design factor. An established program such as MySQL is based on just one piece of the stack, said Anthony Gold, vice president and general manager for open source business at Unisys. Unisys is a systems integrator that helps address database administrators' concerns regarding the virtue and drawbacks of open source systems.

"Often, databases are not pure open source. How do you integrate? This is a real challenge," said Gold.

Unisys focuses on putting together an integrated stack. Each database has its pros and cons. "Open source" means different things to different people, he explained.

A business user can start a basic database with existing free and commercial open source packages. However, commercial products cost more, and there are options all over the map based on the environment, Gold advised.

"No one size fits all. Selecting a database application is the same as selecting a Linux distribution," he suggested.

In properly fitting a database design to a company's needs, business administrators should consider the individual performance of the database, emphasized Gold. Each one has its own performance level. For instance, read/write performance levels are different, so users need to think about what computing environment they need.

Another factor to consider is the support behind the open source database a company selects. A third consideration is the ability of the database to scale as more users are added.

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