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Study: Open-source databases going mainstream

Following Linux's footsteps, open-source databases are moving toward mainstream use and threatening proprietary software alternatives, a new survey says.

Following in the footsteps of the Linux operating system, open-source databases are moving toward mainstream use and threatening proprietary software alternatives, according to a new survey.

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"Open-source databases are in the experimentation phase of the market but will move to widespread acceptance by 2006," the AMR Research study said. AMR surveyed 140 information technology managers in December and released results this month.

The underlying code of open-source software programs can be freely viewed, modified and redistributed by anyone, a stark contrast to tightly controlled proprietary software such as databases from Oracle, IBM and Microsoft. Challenges will come from three contenders in the open-source database market: MySQL, MaxDB and PostgreSQL, AMR said.

Linux threatens proprietary operating systems such as Microsoft's Windows and Sun Microsystems' Solaris, and databases will follow suit, AMR said. "The most immediate impact on traditional database vendors will be the inability to upgrade and upsell customers easily (and profitably) beyond 2006," the report said.

But open-source databases haven't been a guaranteed path to success. One company, Great Bridge, closed its doors in 2001, after failing to make a business out of the PostgreSQL package.

And while top Linux seller Red Hat is trying to expand into software beyond the operating system, it no longer promotes its Red Hat Database, released in 2001, in its list of Red Hat applications.

But AMR's survey found that open-source databases are now gaining acceptance. One important factor is lower cost, which has become a major consideration in database purchasing.

"Of those companies anticipating they would evaluate new database technology within the next two years, over 40 percent were motivated primarily by cost," AMR said. Traditional database companies charge as much as $40,000 per server processor for the software; the top price of an open-source database was $1,500 per processor, for MaxDB.

Support from software companies will help establish open-source databases. "Although we believe many independent software vendors will announce support for one open-source database in the next 24 months, we also believe that there will be a competitive advantage for those taking an aggressive early road to adoption in the next 12 months," AMR said.

One prominent partnership came with business software powerhouse SAP, which signed a deal in 2003 with MySQL. Through the deal, MySQL will develop an open-source database from SAP now called MaxDB and gradually move its features to the MySQL database product it has sold for years.

Another software partnership came from Sun Microsystems, which embeds within its directory server software Sleepycat's Berkeley DB. The Berkley DB is an open-source product that also can be sold as a proprietary package; it's not designed to replace database software--such as Microsoft's SQL Server, IBM's DB2 or MySQL--that uses the standard SQL method of requesting information from a database.

One factor holding back adoption of the new databases is lack of support, but "much of this concern seemed to come from the false perception that commercial support contracts were not available," AMR said. The concern about support "dissipated among those with actual open-source database experience," AMR added.

Another limiting factor was support for sophisticated sequences of instructions called stored procedures, AMR said.

Users of open-source databases were more satisfied with the products than they were with proprietary alternatives, when it came to factors such as price, performance, ease of administration, stability and current features. But satisfaction lagged when it came to "scalability," the ability to handle large workloads, AMR said.