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Free for all

How do you react when database majors put profits on the back burner and start giving away their flagship RDBMS for free? Kumar Dawada goes behind the scenes and attempts to find method to the seeming madness.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Milton Friedman,
US economist
.

Organisations are dependent on their IT implementations. At the heart of these deployments, you will usually find a database. Diverse organisations customise their database systems for anything from simple accounting such as keeping track of inventory or payroll systems, to managing complex transactions such as running Web sites or keeping track of the financial transactions of all the branches of a large bank.

A major decision faced currently by any organisation, large or small, is whether it should deploy an open source database or play it safe and go for a commercial solution. Until recently, this decision was easy. If you sat on the open source software (OSS) side of the fence, you went for MySQL and PostgreSQL. On the commercial side, you had Oracle 10g, Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and IBM DB Universal Database.

Moreover, the commercial packages were far ahead in terms of features in the past. However, the latest releases of MySQL and PostgreSQL have changed that. They now offer most of the advanced features that were hitherto available only on commercial software. On top of this, they are either free or available at a relatively low cost.

It is perhaps in response to this trend that the leaders in the commercial segment have come up with some interesting schemes to ensure that companies continue to prefer their products to the OSS ones.

Firing The First Salvo

When Oracle purchased Innobase, the company which provides the InnoDB storage engine of MySQL and is regarded as one of the best database engine for those applications requiring online transactions, it drew a line in the sand. InnoDB is not a standalone database product. It is sold with every copy of the MySQL database. According to mysql.com, MySQL has more than six million active installations and its users include large organisations like Yahoo, Suzuki, NASA and The Associated Press. Innobase had an annual contract with MySQL and as the current contract expires, the new contract will be drawn up by rival Oracle. Where does this development leave MySQL? Will it develop a new version of the InnoDB database engine based on the current open source code since it is under GPL (General Public Licence), or will it have to find or build another open source database engine?

MySQL’s reaction is interesting. It announced that it is working with its customers to find an alternative to the open source InnoDB database engine used in the MySQL database.

The Second Salvo

Oracle’s next announcement was that it would provide a free ‘lite’ version of its flagship Oracle 10g database. Microsoft followed suit by offering a free ‘express’ version of its Microsoft SQL Server 2005. However, these free editions have limitations—they support only a single CPU and 1 GB of addressable memory and the maximum database size cannot exceed 4 GB. That said, these are quite respectable limits and many SMBs could cut their teeth on these versions and later look at migrating to the full versions which is probably just what the vendors must be hoping for.

Where do these developments leave customers,developers and competitors? From a short-term perspective, it is good news for customers and developers who can take their pick of the best database software free or at a very low cost. Intense competition will also force vendors to constantly improve and upgrade their features

Where do these developments leave customers, developers and competitors? From a short-term perspective, it is good news for customers and developers who can take their pick of the best database software free or at a very low cost. Intense competition will also force vendors to constantly improve and upgrade their features.

From an Indian perspective, again, these developments are good. India has an immense pool of talented people who lack the financial resources for a proper international standard training. Free versions of commercial software will be a boon for students as well as the developer community.

Open Source Or Commercial
To decide the million-dollar question of choosing open source or commercial database, the CIOs or IT Heads of organisation normally consider many factors. The main factor is the budget or cost of the deployment or implementation.

Other factors include the size of their database, scalability options, high availability, the features and functionality of the database product, typical hardware requirement, typical acquisition cost and total cost of ownership, availability of proper support, ease of finding IT admins with the necessary skill sets, operating systems supported and so on.

Many organisations are willing to pay substantial amounts of money to commercial vendors for the advanced features, security and support that their products provide. However, the open source market has become a force to reckon with and these players have so far given commercial software a run for its money.

There is no single factor to tilt the balance in favour of commercial or open source database. The decision differs from organisation to organisation and from time to time.

Open Source Perspective

For open source competitors like MySQL this could be very bad news. Oracle’s purchase of Innobase lets it calculate the exact value of MySQL’s market share because InnoDB has been bundled with every copy of MySQL. Oracle can also get a list of customers who need InnoDB support, especially from the enterprise segment.

In the case of PostgreSQL, it could be tough going if Oracle uses its leverage with MySQL to keep the latter as a low-cost promotional database tool and maintains its strong hold on the entry-level database market and uses it to migrate potential users to its upscale offerings.

Long Term Effects

Commercial vendors like CA, IBM, and SAP have been actively encouraging the open source industry. The move to release a variation of their flagship products for the open source community has its own rewards. They can get the benefit of the expertise of thousands of open source developers and drastically improve their database technology or rectify their pain points

Commercial vendors like CA, IBM, and SAP have been actively encouraging the open source industry. The move to release a variation of their flagship products for the open source community has its own rewards. They can get the benefit of the expertise of thousands of open source developers and drastically improve their database technology or rectify their pain points. When the product is sufficiently enhanced and improved by the developers, it could then be sold as a commercial version. This gives the benefit of low-cost development as well as high returns.

The long-term perspective of this database free-for-all could mean the end of the open source industry. Many Indian organisations including the government sector are banking upon open source software. Any adverse impact on the open source products will be a cause for concern.

CIO-Speak

Chinar Deshpande
CIO
Pantaloon

Chinar Deshpande, CIO, Pantaloon believes that the distribution of free or trial versions of commercial databases is good for the IT industry. “An organisation’s IT team can properly assess the backend application. They can get hands on practise without any investment. This enables an enterprise to make an educated decision on whether or not to actually invest in a commercial database,” elaborates Deshpande.

Sanjay Sharma
Corporate Head
Technology
IDBI Bank

Sanjay Sharma, Corporate Head – Technology, IDBI Bank feels that free versions of commercial databases are part of a long term business strategy on part of the vendors who are ignoring the short term monetary loss due to non recovery of the amount spent on product development. “By distributing a free version of their product, these vendors are creating a large user and developer base for their product. These people will develop the comfort levels, expertise and skills for usage and development in the long run which centres around that product,” emphasises Sharma.

The open source movement is keeping commercial vendors on their toes and encouraging them to keep improving their products. They also prevent market stagnation by preventing any one player or a single alliance from totally dominating the database market. However, the open source industry does not have the finance or resources to sustain a prolonged and aggressive competition. In the database free-for-all, the last man standing may well be the commercial vendors.

Sizing Up The Backend
Database
No of CPUs supported
Memory limit
User data limits
Target segment
Pricing and licensing
Other features
Oracle Database 10g Express Edition 1 1 GB 4 GB Developers, SMBs, DBAs, educational institutions, students and ISVs Free to develop, deploy, and distribute -
Oracle 10g Enterprise Edition No limit No limit Up to 8 exabytes Large enterprises $800 per named user plus (minimum 25 users per CPU) or $40,000 per CPU for unlimited use Supports cluster and grid environment
Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express Edition 1 1 GB 4 GB Developers, SMBs, DBA, educational institutions, students and ISVs Free to download and use. Royalty free redistribution but registration required  
MS SQL 2005 Enterprise Edition No limit No limit No limit Large enterprises $24,999 for processor license or $13,969 for server plus user or device CALs (client access licences) with 25 CALs. Fast recovery, data mining, text mining, business analytics
PostgreSQL No limit No limit 4 terabytes Large enterprises Source code available under BSD open source licence Like MVCC (multi-version concurrency control), point in time recovery, asynchronous replication and write ahead logging for fault tolerance
Max DB No limit No limit Supports terabytes of data Large enterprises Free software / open source GNU GPL or $49 per named user on single CPU systems with a minimum of five users or $1,490 per CPU without user limitations Continuous operation, designed for large number of users and high workloads and supports all major SAP solutions
MySQL 5.0 No limit No limit No limit Large enterprises Dual licensing model - GPL or commercial mySQL licence Available in cluster version to support cluster architecture

kumard@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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