Open-source an option for database apps

As the use of Linux has expanded in enterprise computing since 2002, so too has the variety of open-source database applications available to users, according to a panel of executives from five open-source database vendors.

The panelists discussed their products at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo here yesterday and offered their views on how open-source applications can best fit enterprise computing needs.

The panel included Marten Mikos, CEO of MySQL.; Christof Wittig, president and CEO of db4objects; Jonathan Prial, vice president of marketing for IBM's Information Management Software Group; Michael Olson, president and CEO of Sleepycat Software; and Tony Gaughan, vice president of product development at Computer Associates International.

Olson said his Berkeley Database-based application is used by customers in places where a complicated relational database would be overkill. Instead, customers can sometimes find open-source database products that suit their needs at lower cost or for free.

But low price isn't necessarily the reason customers move to open-source applications, said Mikos. For users, the main criteria are most often performance, reliability and ease of use.

"That's what people pay for," Mikos said. Most of MySQL's global users download and use the company's product for free, but paying customers license the software to gain support and service as part of their critical IT infrastructure.

MySQL's approach, he said, is that while the database technology is complicated, the applications shouldn't be complicated for users. "Yes, there is rocket science inside" MySQL applications, he said. "But a regular customer can use it."

Wittig's company, db4objects, offers object-based database technologies. He said the big advantage of the open-source model for database applications is that vendors can create, distribute and sell their products to users at a lower cost. "We can give that (savings) back to users" because the company doesn't have huge marketing and sales budgets, he said.

Prial said the market is healthy enough that customers with different product needs can find the right solution. "At the end of the day, people pay for value," so multiple price points and levels of features will be needed, he said.

CA's Gaughan said his company recently made its Ingres r3 database open-source as a way to reinvigorate it. The database has been in CA's product line for about 10 years and has a long proprietary history that predates its acquisition by CA.

"We wanted to broaden the appeal of Ingres and give something back as well," he said, noting that CA makes its money on service and support for the product.

Mikos said CA's decision to release the Ingres database as an open-source product is a strong signal in the community. "Is that a threat?" Mikos said. "No, it's a validation. It means it's a great thing to do."

Despite all the differences between open-source and proprietary products, the future could see them begin to converge, said Olson. Good ideas from both types of companies will likely come together, yielding new innovations.

"The model in a few years can be very different from what you're seeing here," he said.

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Todd R. Weiss

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