Abandoning Oracle for an open source alternative? You may need guidance…
I have recently completed a series of presentations to PostgreSQL User Groups in Europe and met with a number of customers to discuss their adoption of the database, writes Bruce Momjian, co-founder of the PostgreSQL Global Development Group and Senior Database Architect, EnterpriseDB.
It is clear interest in PostgreSQL is growing among enterprise users, who are actively planning to leave traditional commercial database providers as they seek to find more agile, innovative alternatives.
The goal is to reduce risk and complexity, but also find databases that make their organisations smarter. As they consider their PostgreSQL strategy, these European customers have a number of questions and one is worthy of more discussion, because it is relevant to the broader adoption of open source of the enterprise: “Should I support Postgres in-house?”
Do You Like Going to Restaurants?
My response is simple, if a little cryptic at first! I start by asking: “Do you like going to restaurants?” While I am not suggesting that PostgreSQL users are restaurant connoisseurs I am pretty confident most people say “Yes” when I ask this question.
Of course, it is something of a gentle trap as the next question is: “Why do you go to restaurants rather than cook yourself? You could get all the same ingredients and use the same utensils as the best chefs, and you could save a heap of money staying at home.”
I would conjecture that we like going to restaurants because we expect certain service levels. We have the reassurance of trained chefs who are experts in their cuisine. We can also expect a reasonable level of customer service and a relaxing atmosphere as we are prepared to pay for the experience.
This analogy applies to vendor-supported open source databases, especially in mission-critical environments where expertise and quality of service are of paramount importance. Your database ecosystem is more complex than managing an open source operating system like Ubuntu, and your database is an essential application for your business. It is of paramount importance that your database delivers high reliability and performance, while ensuring maximum security and can handle variable workloads.
Key Considerations When Deciding Who Cooks
Of course, you could bring your own open source chefs in-house, who will have the expertise to oversee your implementation. However, there are key considerations when deciding whether to bring Postgres in-house or work with a vendor who supports Postgres. Firstly, there is the question of scale. It is often pretty straight forward to bring Postgres in-house during an initial pilot, but once you start scaling it becomes more difficult to stretch resources quickly enough to match demand.
Then, there is the question of managing potential sprawl. With Postgres we have found customers spin up an instance for a pilot, but once word of its usability spreads instances start popping up around the organisation. Control is a critical element of managing security for such applications, so how do you get your arms around all these different “chefs?” How do you ensure they are cooking in the same consistent way using the same ingredients and recipe? If it is not stretching the analogy too far, mismanagement of open source could end up being a case of “too many cooks spoiling the broth!”
The third consideration is ensuring you have a trusted partner in place to guide the adoption, set the parameters around its use, and offer expert training to build confidence in the use of open source software. This is particularly important in the database sector, where many organisations use Oracle. One of the key benefits of open source-based databases is the freedom to move away from the constraints of Oracle, but at the same time customers cannot afford to lose the reassurances of a feature-rich database.
It is critical that databases can be seamlessly migrated from Oracle to the new platform, but this can be complicated as most Oracle databases are customised by users for their industry and individual business needs. You could be lucky and the person you hired has necessary knowledge of all the potential variables of such a migration, but you have to ask yourself whether it is less hassle to outsource the cooking to someone who is steeped in such technical requirements.
Partnership: Maximising the Benefits of Open Source
It was clear in the discussions I had with customers that there is an urgency to evolve their database strategies rapidly to meet the demands of the digital era. They know that risk and complexity remain the two biggest enemies of effective database systems, but they are also under growing pressure to make their organisations smarter and more agile. I firmly believe open source is the best way to address these challenges. How you adopt open source then becomes the key decision.
I can see the logic in IT teams taking open source software in-house – you have the control, while reaping the benefits of its agility and innovation. However, I would argue partnership with open source vendors is more effective, because together the vendor and customer can agree and align around the business goals from the outset. With the vendor’s expert support the customer will have far more time to plan its adoption and ensure its relevance to the business.
Above all, it means customers can minimise the potential risks and maximise the benefits of adopting an open source-based database.