Open Source Databases Widely Used, Seldom Paid For

Open source systems have replaced only a few commercial products in the enterprise.
Open source databases, while widely used, have thus far "had a superficial impact on the enterprise database market in that adoption has been widespread but shallow," concludes a report from market researchers The 451 Group.

The just issued report, titled "Turning The Tables? The Impact Of Open Source On The Database Enterprise Market," concludes that the expected impact of open source code to commoditize the database market has yet to occur.

Open source systems have replaced only a few commercial products in the enterprise. Their use comes from adoption by development teams for internal applications with limited criticality; they're sometimes used in production systems for reporting -- as opposed to transaction processing.

"Open source databases have predominantly been deployed to avoid additional proprietary database licenses of new projects in specific application areas," wrote analyst Matt Aslett, author of "Turning The Tables?"

Despite some slowing of license revenue growth, the database business remains a $15 billion-a-year market, according to Gartner, and the three major vendors continue to jockey for position in relation to each other, not open source.

The enterprise market is still dominated by IBM on the mainframe and its other lines of hardware, Microsoft's SQL Server dominates on Windows systems, and Oracle dominates everything else. "Open source databases have been have been predominantly deployed to avoid additional traditional database licenses ... including in customer-facing Web applications," wrote Aslett.

This may pose a long term challenge to the proprietary vendors, as resistance to more database licenses and maintenance expenses builds up and Web architecture gets more broadly adopted. Nevertheless, "in the short term, the proprietary database vendors are under little threat from open source databases."

The report appears to challenge some of the assumptions behind Sun Microsystems' acquisition of MySQL AB, the company behind the MySQL database system, part of the LAMP stack. Aslett estimates MySQL revenue as $14 million in 2004, $16 million in 2005, $34 million in 2006, and $48 million in 2007. Sun Microsystems purchased MySQL at the start of the year for $1 billion, saying it gave Sun entree to a growing and potentially lucrative new Web services market.

At the time of the acquisition, MySQL boasted that it was experiencing 50,000 downloads a day, and the number has increased since Sun made its announcement. Aslett says that means less than one in 1,000 installations leads to a paying customer for MySQL technical support. He estimated the customer base at 10,000.

While MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Ingres are all available for free download, professional database administrators may resist their broad uptake in part because the established pay scale recognizes expertise in the commercial systems, not open source. The commercial vendors have offered "express" editions of their commercial products, also available for free download, but restricted in how large a production system they will support. Aslett called higher pay grades for commercial database administration "a hidden obstacle" to widespread open source deployment.

Despite obstacles, all three show signs of winning broader acceptance. Ingres, once part of CA, was spun out as a separate company and announced early this year that it was going to pursue an IPO in 2008, Aslett wrote. At the Open Source Business Conference, Ingres CEO Roger Burkhardt said its revenue grew 100% last year from $25 million in 2006 to $50 million in 2007.

While no threat in the near term, Aslett wrote, "the revenue growth enjoyed by open source database vendors in recent years suggest that they pose a long-term threat to the established vendors." But before they can make good on the challenge, they may need to flesh out some enterprise features and functionality.

MySQL built its reputation as a fast mechanism for serving Web pages, and it's behind the Web sites of Google, Yahoo, FaceBook, and YouTube. On the other hand, Aslett noted in the report, MySQL "has seen its storage engines acquired by rivals." Its transaction storage mechanism, InnoDB, comes from Inno Oy, a Finnish company now owned by Oracle. MySQL uses SolidDB, owned by IBM, but IBM recently spun out SolidDB for MySQL as a separate open source project on SourceForge.

Both PostgreSQL and Ingres represent mature relational database systems that could be put into service by the enterprise, if the right skills and technical support were available, Aslett noted.

PostgreSQL, in a performance test sponsored by Sun, showed only a 15% performance penalty to Oracle, he recounted. The benchmark was conducted by Josh Berkus, a PostgreSQL developer employed by Sun, and reported on by InformationWeek at the time.

EnterpriseDB, a company whose product, Postgres Plus Advanced Server is based on the PostgreSQL project's code, includes proprietary extensions to deal with applications specific to Oracle databases. EnterpriseDB is the first vendor to claim "Oracle compatibility," and IBM recently signed up as an investor in EnterpriseDB's third round of $10 million in venture capital financing.