PostgreSQL Shows How Open Source Support Can Be Hard To Come By

When companies embrace an open source project, getting good support is one of the key factors.
Companies may want a solid, for-profit vendor providing support when they embrace an open source project. One shortcut to checking on a support company's qualifications is to find how many of a project's core developers, the ones who commit code to the code base, are employed by the support firm. But the history of support for the PostgreSQL database offers a cautionary tale.

GreatBridge was established by Landmark Ventures to provide support for the PostgreSQL open source database, launched in 1999 at the height of the tech boom with several PostgreSQL developers on the payroll. Two years later, it closed amid the tech industry downturn, recalls Josh Berkus, a PostgreSQL developer since 1998 and a core developer since 2002.

Believing there was an opening for PostgreSQL business, Red Hat launched its Red Hat Database, based on PostgreSQL, with technical support in 2002. But even the dominant business-Linux vendor couldn't make a go of it and dropped Red Hat Database. Red Hat supports PostgreSQL when it's included in the Red Hat Application Stack, which also includes the JBoss application server and Apache Web Server.

In January 2005, Pervasive Software jumped into PostgreSQL support. By June 2006, it was jumping out. "We underestimated the high level of quality support and expertise that was already available with the PostgreSQL community," Pervasive president John Farr wrote to the community explaining the departure. has about 243 developers contributing regularly plus 51,788 who have signed up for its mailing list. A support query launched into such broad expertise tends to get a quick response, says Berkus.

Companies today should pick their PostgreSQL support with an eye on a vendor's specialized expertise, Berkus recommends. Sun Microsystems began supporting PostgreSQL when used with Solaris 10 last July and hired Berkus as lead PostgreSQL developer in its database technology group. And EnterpriseDB focuses on supporting PostgreSQL as an Oracle-compatible database, so it might be the right choice for those looking to migrate some Oracle systems to PostgreSQL, Berkus says. Support can be specialized by region, such as Software Research Associates in Japan, where PostgreSQL is popular.

PostgreSQL, an outgrowth of the original Ingres project at the University of California at Berkeley, has had ups and downs. But since 2000, it has been one of the two most successful open source database systems, second to MySQL. Its uneven pattern of sustaining support options, however, should be a warning to open source shoppers to proceed cautiously.

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