Open source databases should be in your strategy

Analyst Forrester says that open source databases can save you money and therefore deserve a place in your software strategy.

Open source technologies continue to make headway in the enterprise, and none more so, perhaps, than open source database management systems (DBMS).

According to a new Forrester Research report, the open source database market stands at $850 million and is expected to grow by more than 40%, to $1.2 billion, by 2010. Though small in comparison with the $16 billion commercial database market, it's still a significant feat considering most open source databases carry no licensing costs.

"More enterprises are deploying open source databases than ever before," the report states. "Enterprises are mainly looking to open source databases to support new applications such as Web 2.0, Web-based applications, small portal applications, radio frequency identification (RFID), and other new workloads."

The report continues: "Every enterprise should now consider open source databases as part of its overall DBMS strategy, as doing this will deliver cost savings, especially when supporting small to midsized applications."

By Forrester's calculations, open source databases are capable of supporting 80% of business applications, making them a viable alternative to commercial databases from the likes of Oracle and IBM in most instances.

They're a lot cheaper, too. Like most open source technologies, open source databases are largely free to deploy and use. That translates into cost savings ranging from 20% to 55% over three years when compared with commercial databases, according to Forrester clients that have implemented an open source database.

"IT costs themselves have gone up quite significantly over the years, and database management costs have also grown over the years," said Noel Yuhanna, a Forrester analyst and the report's author. "[Companies] are looking to contain these costs, and they're looking for alternative database options, including open source."

Like the technology itself, open source database vendors have also caught up with their commercial counterparts when it comes to support services, Yuhanna said, adding that most offer 24/7 support plus Web-based services. In addition, there are now hundreds of independent software vendors and partners to support open source databases.

Yuhanna does not, however, recommend that companies replace current commercial databases with open source ones. The "rip and replace" process requires significant manual effort, since there is a dearth of tools that can automate the entire migration process, making it too slow and complex to be cost effective.

"Migrations are complex, and no one actually has a solution where you can do a 100% migration from an Oracle database or DB2 to an open source database so easily," Yuhanna said. "It takes a lot of effort, and basically no one wants to spend a million dollars to save a million dollars."

MySQL most widely used open source DBMS

Leading the way in the open source database market is MySQL, which was acquired by Sun Microsystems earlier this year. It boasts the highest adoption and growth rates in the industry, according to the report. Despite fears by some that the acquisition would ruin MySQL, Forrester expects Sun to continue investing heavily in its open source database technology.

Zack Urlocker, vice president of products for database technology at MySQL, said Sun is committed to open source technology, including open source databases. He also agreed with Yuhanna that replacing existing commercial databases with open source alternatives is generally not a good idea, at least at this point.

"People wish they could wave a magic wand and migrate off an expensive closed-source database and go open source, but in reality 90% of people who ask about that don't end up migrating," Urlocker said. "Instead what they do, in the process of re-architecting or building new applications, that's when they start using more open source."

Other leading open source database vendors identified by the Forrester report include Ingres, which has a "mature, reliable, high-performance DBMS," and PostgreSQL, with its "long track record of delivering a reliable database that supports online transaction processing (OLTP) and data warehousing applications."

Open source DBMS deployment advice

Companies should consider deploying open source databases to support small to medium-sized, non-mission-critical applications first to evaluate performance, the report recommends. Once the technology has proven itself, Yuhanna said, companies can confidently deploy them for larger, mission-critical apps.

The report also recommends that companies carefully consider support services when choosing an open source database vendor. Yuhanna said that although the open source community offers a repository of support and information, sometimes responding to customer concerns even before vendors, round-the-clock technical support from the vendors themselves is indispensable, especially for mission-critical deployments.

Finally, Yuhanna said, it is important for companies to spread awareness of open source databases throughout the organization to developers and database administrators. Open source databases, he said, "should be part of your DBMS strategy."

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