Open source databases climb corporate ladder

Enterprise-class functionality is making open source databases palatable to companies.

Analysts are telling companies committed to open source software that the time is right to consider an open source database server. Vendors like MySQL and SleepyCat are adding more enterprise-class functionality to the software, and that could eventually threaten the hold Oracle, IBM and Microsoft have on the market.

Noel Yuhanna, a senior analyst for Forrester Research, Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said most enterprises are looking for alternatives to database products supplied by the big three -- Oracle, Microsoft and IBM.

What's interesting is that open source databases were perceived to be supporting only small non-critical data applications, but I think that is changing.
Noel Yuhanna
Senior analyst

"What's interesting is that open source databases were perceived to be supporting only small non-critical data applications, but I think that is changing," Yuhanna said.

Yuhanna said that open source database servers are becoming "very comparable" to commercial databases. MySQL AB of Sweden is leading the way, having narrowed the performance gap that previously stretched between it and the larger vendors. Still, Yuhanna tells clients to start small when it comes to open source database projects.

"Get an understanding of how open source works and flush it out," he said. "Address security and manageability and then take it to the next level, to mission-critical core applications."

A report released this month by the Westport, Conn.-based Robert Frances Group (RFG), entitled "Moving Open Source up the Value Chain: Database Servers," addressed the benefits of open source database servers.

Senior business analyst and report author Chad Robinson said that it is not necessary for a company to convert its mission-critical core database server to realize the value from open source database deployments. Ancillary database servers supporting analytics, business intelligence, data warehousing, Intranets, portals and third-party applications are all opportunities for open source pilot programs, he said. These can slowly increase comfort with the new products without exposing shops to undue risk, Robinson said.

Already big name companies like Yahoo and Sabre Holdings have saved millions in terms of licensing and maintenance by implementing open source databases, Robinson said. The environments are much simpler to use and require fewer administrative efforts, he said.

"Yahoo is still a big user of MySQL, and now they are deploying hundreds of these databases," Robinson said.

Still, Robinson stressed that companies should start small and expose only second-tier projects that do not deal with mission-critical servers.

"Start developing new portal applications," Robinson said. "Why spend the money for another per processor when you can throw MySQL on there for free?"

The challenge with open source database servers, as with all open source applications, is support, Robinson said. Features offered by large database vendors, such as clustering and triggers, are not yet available on open source databases.

However, MySQL is closing in on its largest competitors, analysts agree.

"The last three years started very small but now [open source vendors] are getting very close," Yuhanna said. "This is a wake-up call to commercial vendors to beef up their features and maintain the gap between features and functionality."

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