Database systems built from open-source code are gaining in capabilities and enjoying rapid adoption by early users of new technology on IT staffs.
The trend indicates that open-source databases 'will move from the intellectual curiosity of 2003 to widespread mainstream use by 2006,' a major analyst firm says in a recent report.
'Open Source Databases: Side Street To Main Street,' by J. Paul Kirby and three other AMR Research analysts, says the firm anticipates seeing open-source databases being employed 'for routing use in mission-critical systems' beginning in 2006.
The main candidates for such use include MySQL, the open-source system that's now supported by a Swedish company, MySQL AB, which includes many core MySQL developers among its employees.
The MySQL database has been used for several years as a website information-serving database by such parties as Slashdot.org, the unit of Andover.net that publishes news to the open-source developer community, and Cnet Networks Incorporated, a technology news organisation.
Another candidate is PostgreSQL, a system growing out of database research at the University of California at Berkeley. It's being developed by the PostgreSQL Global Development Group.
A third open-source database project, Firebird, springs from code released by Borland Corporation after acquiring the Interbase commercial system.
Developers have been using open-source databases for several years, since they're free and don't add to the expense of early, experimental projects. Such experimentation has laid the groundwork for open-source databases to follow in the footsteps of Apache and Linux, two open-source code products that have penetrated the enterprise wall.
But Kirby, with fellow analysts Scott Lundstrom, Laura Carrillo, and David O'Brien, says open-source databases aren't going to get the boost from IBM and Oracle that Linux and Apache did. 'It should be no surprise that open-source database is threatening Linux proponents like IBM and Oracle,' they wrote.
Doug Heintzman, director of IBM software group technology strategy, disputes the notion that IBM is on the defensive about open-source databases. 'The marketplace decides which open-source projects are going to succeed,' not IBM or any other company, and IBM has a track record of heeding those decisions, he said. At the moment, it doesn't view open-source databases as competing for the same customers as IBM's DB2.
Early implementers say cost is a big reason they're adopting the free open-source databases, although 10 percent of their users say there's a more important element -- stability. 'Enterprises currently using [open-source databases] were less interested in features and more interested in ease of administration,' the study noted.
Users told AMR Research that they initially were concerned about finding technical support for the open-source code but discovered they could purchase maintenance and support contracts, much like what's available for commercial software.
MySQL Inc, a company that has grown up around the MySQL database, offers both training and technical support, as does the NuSphere Corporation. MySQL Incorporated last month received US$10 million in funding from Accel Partners and Matrix Partners to build up its development and support organisations.