What the Free Non-free Databases Signal

If you go back about a year, and certainly not more than 2, you’ll find the big commercial db vendors all claiming to be ignoring the open source database offerings. Generally the claim was that you might use an open source database for really small work, but for anything serious the open source databases (and really they were focused on mysql) just weren’t feature complete enough to compete with their products. So with IBM now joining Microsoft and Oracle in [http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/5188.html offering a free version of their db’s], is there something we can come away with? I think it’s this: the commercial databases cannot compete on features any more. Basically databases tend to compete on price and features. For years these commercial vendors have stuck to higher prices justified by better features, but that’s just no longer the case. 2005 really marked the end of that trend for two reasons; First, mysql 5.0 was released, which pretty well rounded out the check-mark feature list that most pointy hairs look at when deciding on a database technology. Second, PostgreSQL (which was already feature complete) hit the mainstream tech press, with companies like Pervasive, GreenPlum and EnterpriseDB making use of PostgreSQL and helping push it’s name into the commercial tech press (and the rest of the public) in ways that [http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2006/02/01/1332690.htm only commercial companies can do]. These two events meant that people in the techworld who weren’t really up on their open source databases were now realizing that there really was something to look at, and that the proprietary guys just weren’t offering any value for their higher prices. And so those proprietary vendors will now try to compete on price as well. Eventually they will lose. As more people begin to use PostgreSQL, it will only get better and better. Right now the sweet spot of PostgreSQL can be summed up very nicely by looking at the free db2 market: two processors, 4GB of RAM and unlimited database size. I use machines like that and can get systems into the 100’s of transactions per second range, which covers a lot of ground for most people. I’ll grant, if you have a couple of million dollars to throw at a database solution, you should investigate the big three and see how they stack up against the open source offerings, but if your in the sweet spot, PostgreSQL is your no-brainer choice. Why? Since the competition is even based on price and features (evidenced from the new “free” db’s), PostgreSQL still offers you the advantage of a real competition of vendors based on service without the need to change technologies. Whether you’re hiring me or you’re hiring [http://www.sun.com/software/solaris/postgres.jsp Sun] or something in between, PostgreSQL gives you a true market place of support avenues, rather than a single vendor solution. All else being equal, PostgreSQL still comes out ahead.