Open Enterprise Interview: Denis Lussier
Published 11:21, 22 April 08
The open source Postgres database stands somewhat in the shadow of MySQL, even though the software's roots go back much further. In part, that's because there has been a single company behind MySQL for over a decade now, whereas the commercial history of Postgres has been more chequered. Where one company, Great Bridge, tried and failed to establish a business around the program, EnterpriseDB has had more luck, not least because it employs many of the top Postgres hackers.
Here, Denis Lussier, chief architect and co-founder of EnterpriseDB, talks about the history of Postgres, the background to the company, why he thinks that its products are better suited to the enterprise than MySQL, and whether Oracle will ever take its own database open source.
GM: To set the scene, could you give a little history of the PostgreSQL program that your product is built on?
DL: Postgres has been in continuous development for more than twenty years and, in the process, has acquired a stability, a maturity, and a sophistication that cause many to regard it as the world’s most advanced open source database.
Postgres has its roots in the Ingres project that was hosted at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, a SQL language interpreter replaced the earlier Ingres-based QUEL system, creating Postgres95. In 1996, the database was re-named PostgreSQL to reflect the database’s new SQL query language. The first PostgreSQL release, PostgreSQL 6.0, was made in January 1997, and development has since continued, both by the open source community and by companies such as EnterpriseDB. Today, the database is commonly referred to simply as “Postgres”.
GM: When, how and why did you come to set up EnterpriseDB? Why did you think you could succeed where an earlier company based on PostgreSQL, Great Bridge, failed?
DL: I co-founded EnterpriseDB in March 2004 with Andy Astor, who now serves as the company’s CEO. We questioned why databases were incompatible with each other, what allowed Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM to remain an unchallenged oligopoly, and why standards had produced essentially no beneficial impact on the enterprise database market. At the same time, we were intrigued by the possibility of leveraging an open source database to compete with the market’s giants.
We resolved to base our company on the most enterprise-ready open source database and to differentiate ourselves by making our product more powerful, more convenient for developers, and able to run applications written for Oracle, the industry leader.
We evaluated nearly every imaginable open source database to serve as the foundation of our product. MySQL, HypersonicSQL, Ingres, Firebird, MaxDB, and others were all investigated and rejected as not offering enough performance, scalability, stability, and enterprise-class features for our purposes. Only Postgres met our requirements.
Other companies had tried to commercialize Postgres, but these were merely service-and-support organizations. By contrast, EnterpriseDB is a software company. We have a team of top-flight software development talent that innovates on top of Postgres to create a product that uniquely meets real-world business needs. Another advantage we enjoy is that enterprise acceptance and adoption of open source software is at an all-time high and steadily increasing.
GM: What are your products, and how do they differ from the basic PostgreSQL? What licences do you employ? What about services based around PostgreSQL? Why do we need another enterprise open source database when there is already MySQL?
DL: We have two products: Postgres Plus and Postgres Plus Advanced Server. Postgres Plus is an open source distribution of the PostgreSQL database combined with a variety of additional open source software. As a package, Postgres Plus is a complete, commercial-grade Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) offering, including tools, performance-enhancing components, environment connectors, and more. All of this is bundled into a one-click, cross-platform installer, making it the leading (and only) complete commercial distribution of Postgres. Targeted at developers of next-generation applications, it includes significant performance benefits and important ease-of-use capabilities for developers and DBAs.
Postgres Plus Advanced Server is a commercially licensed product that adds advanced capabilities to Postgres Plus, including robust Oracle compatibility, dynamic performance tuning, and sophisticated management and monitoring.
As you would expect, in addition to providing round-the-clock technical support, we also offer a wide range of professional services to help our customers design, implement, and maintain Postgres Plus applications and databases. We also provide these services to organizations that have deployed PostgreSQL. In fact, we’re the largest provider of PostgreSQL-based services in the world.
Postgres is truly “enterprise-class” in many ways that MySQL is not, which explains why Postgres, and not MySQL, has such a strong reputation for enterprise-critical characteristics, including reliability, data integrity, and correctness. Postgres also has an extremely sophisticated feature set that includes Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC), point-in-time recovery, tablespaces, asynchronous replication, nested transactions (savepoints), online/hot backups, a sophisticated query planner/optimizer, and write-ahead logging for fault tolerance.
These differences have a dramatic impact in real-world deployments. As an example, our customer FortiusOne migrated its GeoCommons Website from MySQL to our Advanced Server product and improved overall system performance by 80%. Originally, FortiusOne selected MySQL; however, when FortiusOne was preparing to deploy the first public beta of GeoCommons, they encountered major performance roadblocks. The company’s chief technology officer said in a press release, “We slammed into a brick wall with MySQL.” Postgres Plus is an ideal alternative for companies in that situation.
Our belief that we uniquely meet a pressing market need with a compelling solution is shared by others in our industry: we recently raised another $10 million in venture capital from investors that included enterprise database giant IBM.
GM: Who do you employ of the main PostgreSQL coders? What other ways do you work with and give back to the wider PostgreSQL community?
DL: EnterpriseDB employs many of the principal PostgreSQL project coders, thought leaders, and community contributors. Community leader Bruce Momjian has been an employee since 2006. Other core team members and committers include Dave Page and Heikki Linnakangas, Pavan Deolasee, Korry Douglas, Jonah Harris, Greg Stark, and other recognized Postgres contributors are also company employees. There are also many people in our organization that contribute to the quality of the code we deliver to the community whose names are not well known outside of EnterpriseDB.
EnterpriseDB is financial sponsor of the Postgres community and also a frequent contributor of critical technology enhancements to the Postgres code base. In 2007, the company contributed “Heap-Only Tuples” (HOT), which significantly increases Postgres’ performance over long periods of time in update-intensive OLTP applications. HOT is among the most complex changes to Postgres to be implemented in the last several years. HOT was conceived, designed, implemented, and shepherded through the Postgres community development process by the EnterpriseDB team. The incredible strength and diversity of the PostgreSQL Community helped in each of these phases to achieve enterprise-class and production ready status much faster than would otherwise have been possible.
GM: What’s your relationship with Sun? How is that likely to change with MySQL on board? More generally, what's your view of Sun’s proposed acquisition of MySQL: is it good or bad for open source? Databases? You?
DL: We have always had a positive relationship with Sun. Sun bundles Postgres with Solaris 10, and EnterpriseDB provides level-3 Postgres technical support to Sun. Sun has publicly stated, perhaps in recognition of the differences between MySQL and Postgres, that they will continue to support Postgres.
Sun’s acquisition of MySQL, especially given the $1 billion they paid, is terrific validation of the strategic importance of open source software generally and at the database layer of the enterprise technology stack particularly.
GM: How do you think the database market will evolve? How will Oracle respond to the growing threat posed to it by open source databases?
DL: I think it’s clear that database solutions based on open source software will increasingly play a critical role in enterprises of every type. The benefits that open source brings to every market will apply equally to enterprise databases: quality will rise, prices will fall, and customers will enjoy transparency and freedom of vendor choice throughout the customer lifecycle.
The “Express Edition” products offered by Oracle and the other long-established database companies appear to be one response to the open source threat to their cash-cow businesses. These companies may also be dropping their prices or taking other measures to acquire or retain key accounts.
GM: Do you think it will ever open source its own database?
GM: Any other thoughts or comments?
DL: This is a momentous time for EnterpriseDB, with our recent launch of the Postgres Plus product family, our venture funding from IBM and other investors, and the announcement of strategic partnerships and significant ISV deals. Internally, we’ve renewed our focus on the enterprise developers who will be driving future adoption of Postgres Plus, and, over the next several months, you’ll be seeing the results of that focus as we release additional developer-oriented tools and resources, and announce significant momentum with partners and customers.
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