Open Source Database Management Systems: What the Pros Use

Databases have been a tool for business and research analysis sincecomputers replaced typewriters in the workplace. Once the domain ofproprietary database management programs, database development is now seeingmore influence from open source programming.

Several industry surveys show a trend among small to mid-sized businesses of atleast trying open source database programs. Those survey results show agrowing satisfaction in open source databases along with an expandingadoption rate.

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

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

“We see adoptions of three open source programs in large organizations aswell,” Mark Voholt, CTO of dbaDirect, told LinuxInsider. His companyprovides 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 areamong the most common causes of inefficient applications. Only two or threeopen 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 establishedcommercial database vendors such as Oracle. MySQL developed a religiousfollowing 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). TheEnterprise Server 5.0 version includes several new features:the Enterprise Installer and Configuration Wizard; triggers to enforcecomplex business rules at the database level; and distributed transactions tosupport 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 SQLstandard features. It runs on Linux, Windows and numerous Unix platforms. Acommercially independent project of C and C++ programmers, the FirebirdProject 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 than15 years of active development. It runs on the major operating systems, suchas Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, Solaris and Windows. It has native programminginterfaces for C/C++, Java, .Net, Perl, Python, Ruby, TCL and ODBC. It ishighly 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 anext-generation open source database. The company’s high-end commercialproduct, Greenplum Database, runs on Red Hat Linux and Open Solaris. It wasengineered 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 runon a single machine at departmental data marts and smaller enterprisewarehouses. Bizgres focuses on supporting business intelligenceapplications. Developed as the Bizgres Project, a community-supportedopen source project, Bizgres is a comprehensive database platform that runson top of PostgreSQL.

“Scaling a database is still a challenge to not use huge computing systemsto 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 areproducing a resurgence now, according to Yara. “Now, databases are designedto new forms of scale that we haven’t seen before.”

New Business Needs

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

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

“The Web applications market was atypical. Other markets like Webintelligence 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 suitabledatabase management application is the design factor. An established programsuch as MySQL is based on just one piece of the stack, said Anthony Gold,vice president and general manager for open source business atUnisys.Unisys is a systems integrator that helps address databaseadministrators’ concerns regarding the virtue and drawbacks of open source systems.

“Often, databases are not pure open source. How do you integrate? This is areal challenge,” said Gold.

Unisys focuses on putting together an integrated stack. Each database hasits 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 commercialopen source packages. However, commercial products cost more, and there areoptions all over the map based on the environment, Gold advised.

“No one size fits all. Selecting a database application is the same asselecting a Linux distribution,” he suggested.

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

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


  • I’ve been using Firebird in an information management product (Topicscape) for a couple of years. It works well as an embedded database, and in the server version. When we reported a problem with special characters (accented letters), it was quickly fixed by the developers. It’s very robust – we did a lot to try to break it during our initial evaluation.

  • The next challenge for open data source to closely couple Data to business intelligence and that’s what Oracle is doing currently i.e. presenting consistent, correct and complete market data to add value to business.

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