How PostgreSQL has popularized open source enterprise databases [Q&A]
Although open source has gained in popularity in recent years, in some circles it's still viewed as being inaccessible to all but tech experts.
But that's starting to change, the PostgreSQL database has earned a strong reputation among businesses for reliability, feature robustness, and performance and has contributed to the growth in open source.
We spoke to Marc Linster, CTO at PostgreSQL specialist EDB to find out why he believes the open source database may now be coming of age.
BN: Why has the market for PostgreSQL exploded in the past year?
ML: One reason Postgres has exploded in popularity in the past year is because it has crossed a visibility threshold. It was initially released in 1996, starting from a small base and staying under the radar for two decades. It's grown quickly over the last four or five years thanks to an accumulation of events creating steady, organic improvement, which has driven Postgres adoption. That improvement included the addition of enterprise features to Postgres' design, such as replication for high availability, scaling to more cores, parallel query, logical replication, and significantly higher performance.
Postgres has also become more popular because adoption of open source in general has grown. Enterprises -- conceptually and mentally -- are becoming more open source-ready than in the past. A few years ago, most businesses considered it too complicated and risky, but this is no longer the case. They are maturing, and most now have a framework for leveraging and participating in open source. There are also now more commercial vendors who offer open source products.
Cost is another factor. Database licenses take up a significant amount of budget. The timing has been perfect for a new database to become available, offering a reduced cost, alongside companies becoming more familiar with using open source software.
Finally, an information explosion is taking place in these organizations, who now hold more data about their customers, suppliers and employees than ever before. This sudden increase in the volume of information has also alerted more companies to the fact that they must ensure this data is managed correctly to safeguard it against leaks and data loss and extract maximum value from it.
These four factors -- increased visibility of Postgres, enterprise receptiveness to open source, reduced cost, and data proliferation -- have come together to drive a surge in market demand.
BN: What benefits does PostgreSQL offer over other databases?
ML: The main benefits are cost and innovation. People come to Postgres for cost but stay with it because it’s innovative, easy to use and runs everywhere.
For enterprises, there are a few features which differentiate Postgres from its competitors. Postgres offers superior performance. It's able to handle enterprise workloads with ease, and continues to build on this, with 50 percent performance improvement in the last four years.
It's capable of growing alongside a business, with multiple technical options for operating at scale. Postgres is built for speed, as its permissive license and broad availability make it straightforward to install and test. It's also supported by a wide array of extensions, plus multiple SQL and NoSQL data models.
I believe the core reason Postgres has become the gold standard is it’s community-driven nature. Open source contributors don't participate in a project to make a profit -- they just want to make Postgres the best possible solution it can be.
BN: What challenges are commonly associated with moving to PostgreSQL and how can these be overcome?
ML: Risk aversion is the key challenge. This is especially important around transactional data -- the backbone of business. It's the part of the business in which everyone strives for zero downtime because if you mess it up, it's a huge problem, and you put the business at risk. EDB overcomes risk aversion in the market by proving the business case for Postgres. We can show companies and individuals they're not the first ones to feel like this, and have reams of case studies proving how early adopters have been successful. It's also important for businesses to feel supported -- we provide tools, support and training for customers to help them ensure success.
BN: What have companies' reservations been about open source in the past and how are attitudes changing?
ML: In the past, companies were concerned that open source was too hard and too risky. There wasn't a vendor who understood the enterprise -- who could talk about a roadmap, offer a support service level agreement (SLA), and mitigate the risks of open source because they truly understood it.
Open source used to be a rather wild world, in contrast to commercial vendors who pre-packaged everything. Now, with companies like EDB and RedHat, you get things that enable the enterprise -- support, training, examples of successful companies -- alongside the benefits of open source, such as lower cost.
BN: What role do commercial companies have in supporting the open source community?
ML: Customers and enterprises expect to engage with a commercial entity. They need a commercial vendor with whom they can have an agreement, with an SLA. They need a phone number to call, guaranteed responsiveness, and the ability to partner with someone. Open source communities offer none of those things. You can't contract with them, and they can't be a reliable partner. That's not their role -- but it's one of the key ways a commercial vendor can provide support.
Companies like EDB also help the Postgres community go faster by sponsoring developers. While individual contributors continue to play a significant role, adding commercial development teams to the community process enables more people to spend additional time working with the community. With this support, the community's capabilities are no longer limited to what people can do 'after hours'. A vendor like EDB means that multiple people can now work on bigger projects for multiple years, but also contribute to the Postgres community, accelerating the rate of innovation even further.