The Aberdeen Group has put together an "analyst report" on free databases,
as typified by MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Berkeley DB. The report is available
for download, in PDF format, from the SleepyCat site
, but one
must get through a moderately obnoxious registration screen first. For
those who don't want to do that, here's a quick summary.
The report starts with a set of reasons why free databases are of interest;
they include control over maintenance and support, source availability,
cost, flexibility, and reliability. A quick summary of the three covered
systems follows, with the "key features" which are supported or missing.
The report summarizes the situation in this way:
All of today's open source databases are seen today as lacking
especially in scalability, and to a lesser extent in robustness,
flexibility, and programmer support. Therefore, they are not
classified as "enterprise." Many are clearly deficient in at least
the first three aforementioned technologies - they do not offer (or
offer limited) stored procedures, do not offer two-phase commit,
and do not offer exceptional multiprocessing support.
The free database systems have reached "enterprise" levels of scalability
and robustness, however.
The free database market, says Aberdeen, is currently worth about
$100 million per year - compared to $10.5 billion for the
proprietary variety. Free databases have mostly been making inroads at the
low end of the market (the report doesn't say this, but that is how
disruptive technologies usually get their start). Aberdeen mentions
several times in particular that free databases on Linux are displacing SCO
installations. The biggest area for free databases, however, is "new
in-house applications." Displacing entrenched systems in other
applications is currently too hard, but new applications typically do not
have legacy issues to deal with. The best markets for free databases have
been in retail and telecommunications.
As for the future:
Over the next two years, the market will reach a "tipping point" at
which a larger range of vertical application and line-of-business
programmers will find open source databases' low cost and
association with other open source software such as Linux a good
reason to include open source databases in their plans. At that
point, open source databases will begin to have a significant impact
on the overall database market, on database pricing, and on the
readiness of the market for an "enterprise-scale open source
The authors of the report talked with free database users, and found that
those users are well pleased with the level of programming help and support
available for the software. If you use a free database system, you can
actually talk with the engineers who wrote it, which is not possible with
large, proprietary systems. Thus, notes the report, if you're using a free
database, you should expect to communicate with the development community,
and not just with a vendor.
The talk of licensing is remarkably FUD-free:
Users should also note that open source licenses are different from
proprietary ones. Users should understand the differences and then
rejoice in the ease of maintenance of open source licenses, which
do not require extensive administration.
The report concludes by saying that free database adoption will stay slow
for the next couple of years before beginning to ramp up. The authors
state the the lower-level programming tools offered with free database
systems will slow down adoption somewhat. Over time, however, the
advantages of free databases will lead to those systems having a
"moderately bright" future.
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