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Postgres slides in between Oracle, MySQL

As VoIP provider Vonage's customer base grew, so too did its databases. They didn't warrant more Oracle instances, but ran just fine on PostgresSQL-based EnterpriseDB.

If you've ever read about Goldilocks, you'll understand the problem Vonage Network Inc.'s interim president Tim Smith had when it came to databases.

Until recently, his company -- a popular Holmdel, N.J.-based VoIP provider -- ran Oracle and MySQL databases. Oracle supported things like the Vonage customer database, while 100 instances of MySQL acted as an embedded database, Smith said.

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But Vonage needed a middle ground, especially as business grew and new projects, including a brand new ticketing system, began to emerge.

"We were just trying to find the right tool for the task at hand," Smith said. "There was a need for something in the middle of [these two extremes]."

The search for middle ground began and for the most part ended with PostgresSQL (Postgres for short), an open source object-relational database server released under a flexible BSD-style license. Several Vonage IT administrators had worked with it before.

In a nutshell, PostgresSQL was less expensive than Oracle. "Oracle is very much a heavyweight. It's expensive and hardware hungry – the sledgehammer of databases. MySQL tends to be a more lightweight embeddable database," Smith said. "When we were smaller, it was easier to have MySQL do lots of things itself, but then the middle ground opened up."

Whatever they chose, Smith wanted it to be dropped in and synced up with Oracle without much effort on the part of his DBAs. "We were looking for someone out there that completely supported Postgres. Something that was perfect out of the box without much tuning," he said. "We were really pushing for Oracle compatibility."

Ultimately, Vonage would deploy Iselin, N.J.-based EnterpriseDB's Advanced Server, based on Postgres, which the company promised could be "dropped into" any environment running an Oracle database without compatibility issues.

Alas, EnterpriseDB's Advanced Server came close, but, for now, it has yet to provide true 100% compatibility with Oracle.

"One hundred percent is the ideal situation, but then again compatibility with Oracle is always a tough thing, and we expect it will take [EnterpriseDB] some time to get closer and closer," Smith said.

Further functionality is forthcoming said EnterpriseDB representative Christian Danella, but she could offer no additional comment.

Nevertheless, Vonage plans to expand the deployment of EnterpriseDB Advance Server in the near future, beginning with the company's financial back end. The expansion will also include an incremental update to the call data record (CDR) database, which Smith estimated at a few terabytes.

Smith was unable to provide a value for dollars saved over an Oracle offering by using EnterpriseDB, but a report by Forrester Research Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based firm, has calculated the savings of open source versus commercial databases at 60% on average.

Noel Yuhanna, Forrester analyst and the report's author, expects more and more large companies to invest in technologies like EnterpriseDB, PostgresSQL and others. Open source databases, however, often lack the necessary features for mission critical applications and lag behind Oracle in the areas of security, XML support and uptime, he said.

To minimize problems, DBAs interested in adopting Postgres or another open source database technology should follow the same common sense steps they always have, said Vonage's Smith.

"That includes not making changes at the last minute and not waiting to the point where you're backed up to capacity with licenses," Smith said.

He also advised DBAs to expect a certain degree of training when bringing in Postgres. Starting with a completely new application, like the Vonage ticketing system, is easier than migrating older, entrenched applications.

"For our long-term application goals, there are going to be much more testing, development and scalability issues," Smith said.

What do you think will happen to open source databases? Email us and let us know.

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