Free databases

Analyst firm Hydrasight research director John Brand believes even if free databases are now available from the tier-1 vendors, the commercial database is unlikely to disappear completely.

"There are still reasons why you might want to stick with a commercial vendor's offerings, some of which relate more to niche application needs like real-time, event-driven applications," Brand said.

"I think we'll also see a fairly aggressive push from vendors in trying to influence, if not control, the open source database development market. It's such a huge market that could potentially influence so many other market segments."

That said, Brand believes the days of databases themselves being valuable is "somewhat over", because the needs of users have evolved and the race is now on to control the business process layers of software, not just data structure and storage.

"The impact that open source databases have had on the industry is a reflection of just how critical and yet so worthless the database is considered to users who interact with an application and an interface," he said.

"Data can no longer be contained or controlled in the way we always thought it should have been, so a focus on data structure, storage, and management seems somewhat 'old fashioned'."

Brand said a paradigm shift in the way information is managed by the likes of Google is starting to make the traditional database somewhat irrelevant. And end users should be wary when deploying a free commercial database -which may cost tens of thousands for an enterprise version - of lock-in and over-zealous sales people, Brand said, "just waiting to put their hand in your pocket to grab whatever they can".

"Open source offerings at least give organizations the choice to pay only for support," he said. "If a product is considered stable and functionally rich enough then organizations will often pay for good support. It's ironic though that organizations that are not willing to pay high product licence fees will quite happily pay product support fees even though the implication there is that the product needs support."

More organizations are using "freeware, pledgeware, or supportware" not just for testing but for serious production deployments, Brand said and praised the open source MySQL which is being used in development and production "in most cases".

"This is because the development and test environments should be the same to avoid complications as a result of the intricacies of different products," he said.

"Unless the develop, test, and production environments are identical there's a fair chance organizations will run into curly interdependency problems that can take days, weeks, or even months in some cases to track down."

This is one of the reasons why Brand believes the functionally-locked or cut-down version of databases have generally been "very poorly" accepted by the developer community.

"Developers want access to fully featured products, not just a 'mini-me', hence the interest in MySQL," he said.

"The exception to this is in the use of embedded databases where data stores enrich client functionality. We don't see this happening though with any server-based, Web-based applications or any client/server apps being migrated off proprietary databases."

Brand said organizations should simply "get over" the single repository idea and make use of a limited number of technologies where they are most appropriate - including open source database products.

"Larger, more complex databases are not always the answer for improving information management practices, including security, ease of access, or semantic integrity," he said.

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