Entrepreneurs turn to open source DBMS vendors

The use of open source database management systems is rising rapidly. The industry is expected to reach $1 billion by 2008, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

As open source databases offer support for more commercial applications, their adoption rates will increase.
Noel Yuhanna
senior analystForrester Research

Like other entrepreneurs, Roger Holden knows that starting a business is risky. Part of that risk involves assembling the right IT infrastructure on a limited budget.

One wrong move and that infrastructure can do in a whole company.

Still, with limited funds, Holden started an airline flight tracking company, Red One Aviation. After evaluating several database software vendors, Holden chose MySQL DBMS (database management system) because it was cheaper than the commercial vendors he evaluated. Those other vendors came with the sort of bells and whistles that this president decided he didn't need.

"I just needed a robust database that could reliably handle fairly high volumes of data," said Holden, whose St. Louis-based company is nearing its third anniversary.

For Holden and other company CEOs on limited budgets, open source databases are making their mark. Not only are viable open source database products more available, but some vendors have added advanced DBMS features and functionality.

"These features and functions will enhance their scalability, performance, automation, integration, and availability," said Noel Yuhanna, a senior industry analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "As open source databases offer support for more commercial applications, their adoption rates will increase."

Company executives are indicating a number of reasons they're choosing an open source DMBS, according to Yuhanna. While many cite the low acquisition cost, others say the lower support and maintenance costs and strong community support helped drive their decision.

Commercial enterprise DBMS licenses currently cost an average of $25,000 per processor, making it a significant budget item, Yuhanna said in his recent report, "Open Source Databases Come of Age."

While vendors are enhancing their products, those looking for low-cost, no-frills DBMS software don't need to look very far for viable options. Open source database software has been available for more than 20 years; the products dominating the market today include Berkeley DB, Cloudscape/Derby, Ingres, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.

Chris Saberen turned to Computer Associates' Ingres open source DBMS to support the Web site for his small Iowa-based real estate investment firm. In addition to its low cost, Saberen chose Ingres because thousands of developers often contribute to database development and answer technical questions quickly. Developers also help add new features when users want them, rather then when a commercial vendor wants to add them, Saberen said.

"In our case it was important not to be locked into a single database vendor," Saberen said. "We're constantly growing and changing and part of that makes having the flexibility in our technical decisions a priority."


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MySQL 5 to open once-closed doors

Some analysts point to the launch of MySQL in 1995 as putting the spotlight on open source DBMSes. While adoption began rather slowly, a recent Forrester survey of 140 large companies in North America found that more than 52% of firms use or plan to use MySQL DBMS.

Forrester is also predicting the open source database market to surge over the next several years. New licenses, support, and services—which currently comprise about $120 million—could grow to more than $1 billion by 2008, according to Yuhanna.

Since its initial launch, MySQL has evolved, changing rapidly to meet customer needs. The company has changed its support services several times to appease concerns among companies clamoring for support. In February, it launched the MySQL Network, an annual subscription service that includes the MySQL software and access to the company's support services.

Under the program, customers get certified versions of the MySQL database, support services, legal indemnification and access to an expanded base of technical information. Prices for 24/7 support are now comparable to some commercial DMBS vendors, starting at $4,995 per year.

MySQL's initial success has forced commercial vendors to respond. Computer Associates released the source code to its Ingres DBMS last year. Ingres, the most mature open source database, traces its beginnings to the late 1970s.

Many see Ingres as the workhorse in the open source database market. It has many of the features commonly found in commercial databases and even runs in some mission critical environments.

"Our Ingres database is how we ship paper all over the world. And if it were to fail, we wouldn't be able to keep our operations running," said Tyler McGraw, a database administrator at Bowater Inc., a paper maker in Greeneville, S.C.

Like Computer Associates, IBM also open sourced a DBMS product, releasing the source code of its Cloudscape database software to the Apache Software Foundation under the code-name Derby.

Cloudscape, an embedded Java database is known for being small and requiring little or no maintenance. While similar to Cloudscape, Berkeley DB Java Edition from Sleepycat Software Inc. is known for its speed and reliability. Both Berkeley DB and Cloudscape/Derby have very small footprints and are used to support Java applications for data repositories, directory services and Web-based applications.

PostgreSQL, which has received little media attention, was created in 1985 by Michael Stonebraker, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who is also credited as the founder of Ingres. The DBMS has many of the features needed for business applications and has a strong community of developers, according to Yuhanna.

As open source options continue to increase, open source database vendors will boost their support for more mission critical applications, Yuhanna said.

"More open source databases will support semi-structured and unstructured data, along with advanced data searching capability," Yuhanna said. "Open source databases will continue to make inroads to enterprises that are looking for low-cost DBMS alternatives in the future."

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