Open source databases establishing footholds

Open source databases are emerging as viable alternatives to costly proprietary databases and, in so doing, are filling a key slot in the open source e-business development stack.

With vendors working to enhance performance, add new features, and fix bugs, analysts said the open-source databases are inching their way up to the level of proprietary databases in terms of features and functionality – albeit slowly.

The combination of Linux and open source offerings is becoming an option to using Windows or proprietary Unix-based e-business application stacks. An alternative stack can consist of the Linux operating system running on commodity Intel servers, an open source database, the open source development language, PHP, an Apache Web server, and the Sendmail e-mail server.

The momentum behind open source databases is growing.

Last Friday, for instance, Great Bridge LLC in Norfolk, Va. announced a boxed version of its PostgreSQL database and a number of accompanying services and support offerings. With a price of $50,000 for the database and the most comprehensive support package, Great Bridge’s PostgreSQL is hardly free, but considering that proprietary databases easily can cost 10 times that, it isn’t exactly expensive, either.

Great Bridge is merely the latest in a string of companies to support an open source database.

Borland turned its InterBase, once a proprietary RDBMS, over to the open source community under a variant of the Mozilla Public License, and continues to support its development.

In the last several months, Nusphere, in Bedford, Mass, and Abriasoft have shipped versions of the open source database, MySQL, and sell support for them.

Last week Abriasoft released Abria SQL Standard 2.1 for Red Hat Linux and Microsoft Windows platforms. The product integrates a secure SSL (Secure sockets layer) flavor of Apache with MySQL.

Then on Wednesday Nusphere enhanced its service offerings with commercial support for its database. The distributor also added row-level locking, an important feature that proprietary databases have, to its MySQL variant in late-October.

While Nusphere and Abriasoft duke it out in the MySQL trenches, analysts said that PostgreSQL, which has been in development for more than 25 years – beginning at the University of California at Berkeley – is the most suited for enterprise-level use of the open-source databases.

Great Bridge, in fact, ran its database through the Transaction Processing Council’s TPC-C benchmarking, and the results were surprisingly similar to databases from two vendors that the company would only describe as proprietary.

Whether open source databases are up to par with their proprietary brethren or not, though, some companies are opting for open source instead of closed systems.

After spending six months studying alternatives and speaking with established vendors such as Oracle and IBM, Gazos Creek Group put its faith in Abriasoft’s incarnation of MySQL, according to David Lovering, a network applications engineer at the Fort Collins, Colo. provider of combined broadband, voice, data, and video services.

Singing the old Linux anthem, Lovering continued that Gazos’ chose MySQL because of the breadth and price of tools for the database, as well as the faster time to getting new features added into the system.

“The developer community around open-source databases is fairly large,” said Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston.

Lovering also said that scalability was a huge issue for Gazos, and he needed a database capable of supporting a flexible number of users.

“The open-source database can be scaled overnight,” he added. “Provided that you don’t violate the GPL [General Public License], you can essentially go from zero to hundreds of thousands of users.”

In the end, though, Aberdeen’s Claybrook said that most customers look at open source databases because of the relatively low-priced ticket.

“If they weren’t open source, I’d say they don’t have a chance,” he said. “But the vendors can keep the price down, and that is important.”