Open source meets the database – it’s not free, but it is all about freedom

Proprietary software has traditionally enjoyed a sound foothold in the database space in particular.

August 16, 2012

Proprietary software has traditionally enjoyed a sound foothold in the database space in particular. However, in recent years we have seen an upsurge in interest for open source database solutions, for a number of reasons. Proprietary solutions are costly, and that is a well known fact. But the biggest cost is not necessarily the initial purchase price, but the lack of integration with third party applications and the tendency towards becoming locked into a single vendor because of the need to create a homogenous environment. This lock-in is particularly undesirable when it comes to data, as data often no longer belongs to the organisation when this type of lock-in occurs. Open source database solutions address all of these challenges, and often offer a viable alternative to costly proprietary systems.

Says Jaroslav Cerny, CEO at RDB Consulting: “One of the reasons for the relatively slow uptake of open source, particularly in the database space, is a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication. This software model used to be called ‘free’ software, which has created some confusion in the market and also resulted in organisations to either not trust a ‘free’ solution or to expect that a ‘free’ offering will deliver the same level of service as a paid for offering. While the code is available for free, the real ‘freedom’ of open source lies in being able to access the source code.”

Adds Muggie van Staden, CEO of Obsidian Systems: “Open source means just what it says – that the source code is open, freely available and public. It is a development model that enables the large open source community to develop, improve and add value to the base source code. Every member of this community, which includes a number of different companies as well as individuals and even hobbyists, works towards improving, developing and delivering better solutions. This is the true value of open source solutions, for the database or any other area,”

Another factor that has inhibited the uptake of open source is a belief that these solutions are sub-standard when compared to proprietary solutions. This myth is becoming increasingly invalid however in light of readily available statistics, including the fact that more than 90% of the world’s top 500 supercomputers run on open source operating systems. However, the ‘free’ versus ‘paid for’ debate is an ongoing one, as Community Open Source solutions are in fact available for no cost. This has led to the belief that open source solutions are something you download for free, for which there is no support. While the open source development community develops leading edge software with excellent functionality, they are developers and do not provide the support and certifications that businesses need, particularly with regard to the database. For the business environment, there is great benefit in utilising Enterprise Open Source solutions, which deliver the benefits of open source for a fee while providing the necessary support, much like proprietary solutions providers but for a typically lower cost without high software licensing fees.

“The database is the heart of the modern enterprise, and organisations spend millions on infrastructure, storage and solutions. If the software that runs on this expensive infrastructure is not suited or is not correctly supported, the entire stack can break down and cause detrimental damage. In trying to save a few thousand by using Community Open Source solutions, organisations can in fact end up costing themselves a lot more,” adds Cerny.

“Ultimately, maintaining the database is critical, and there is a cost involved in this resource. Enterprise Open Source provides the indemnity from this risk that businesses need, because the vendor is being paid to address this business risk and ensure that solutions are implemented correctly and maintained. This ensures that the database benefits from the freedom of open source, while still maintaining the necessary levels of uptime and service,” he adds.

If the right type of open source is utilised in the database space, and professional support is ensured by engaging with an Enterprise Open Source database service provider, there are many benefits that can be leveraged. These include the ability to implement cross platform open standards databases that can be deployed in multiple environments rather than only on proprietary platforms and infrastructure, as well as preventing lock in, both in terms of software and hardware. This gives organisations the freedom to change platforms, operating systems, service providers and so on without penalties, ensuring that they can take advantage of the best solution to meet their needs.

“Enterprise Open Source offers the benefits of open source as well as the benefits of an outsourced provider, offering access to a pool of skills for the development of better software as well as for the maintenance and service delivery aspects. The service provider can take care of the mundane tasks such as administration, updates and monitoring so that organisations can use their core skills in areas which will drive business benefit,” van Staden adds.

“When it comes to the database, there are many solutions out there, and not all of them will suit the needs of every organisation. Freedom to change operating systems, hardware or even service providers may not be a deciding factor for one business, while it may be critical for another. The most important thing is to make an informed decision, to be aware of the consequences of the decision, and to ensure that any decision taken around the database is in the best interests of the organisation,” he concludes.