This is the final installment in the Who Will Win the Database Wars series which analyzes the most significant areas of database vendor competition. In addition to this comparison, the series also includes the following competitive assessments:

Open source database management systems provide IT consumers with the benefit of lower, to virtually 0, upfront licensing costs. The database software is distributed under an open source licensing model that often varies in restrictions according to product and vendor.

When compared to their commercial product competitors, open source offerings were historically characterized as niche offerings with limited features, functionality and vendor support. As a result, organizations often shied away from open source offerings that were not commercially supported. There was no stable, mature organization that they could rely upon for product support, patches and upgrades. They felt uncomfortable implementing critical or mission-critical applications that were “crowd supported.”

The global, collaborative development process used to build open source products was often derided by the larger, commercial product competitors. In 2001, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer described Linux as “a cancer.” In 2016, Microsoft’s stance on open source certainly changed when it announced that it would release SQL Server for the Linux operating system. Oracle’s purchase of MySQL also reinforces the impact open source products are having on the DBMS market.

Who Wins - Open Source or Commercial Database Products?

WINNER - Commercial (for now) But Will Lose Market Share at an Ever Increasing, and Alarming, Rate. Alarming for them anyway...

Open Source offerings have rapidly grown in features, administrative tools and the availability of trained DBAs. As a result, they are now being considered as viable alternatives to commercial products.

It is important to note that open source does not always mean the product is totally free from up- front licensing and/or ongoing maintenance costs. Many open source DBMS vendors provide base functionality in their free, open source offerings and a higher level of features in versions that have up-front purchase costs or require subscription-based support contracts.

The key differentiator is that the up-front licensing and ongoing maintenance costs are significantly lower than their commercial competitors.

A new class of service providers has stepped in over the last few years to provide 24x7 support for a growing number of open source database products that include, but are not limited to, PostgreSQL, MySQL (and its derivatives MariaDB and Percona), MongoDB and Cassandra.

EnterpriseDB, as an example, markets its Postgres Plus Advanced Server product as a cost-effective alternative to Oracle. The vendor states that its product provides a deep level of compatibility with Oracle’s features that include the PL/SQL procedural language, Oracle SQL extensions, functions, packages and replication. The product also provides Oracle-like tools which include EDB*Plus, EDB*Loader and EDB*Wrap.

The growth in open source features, administrative tools and available DBA skill sets combined with the traditionally high cost of commercial database product source code, complex and restrictive licensing agreements and commerical vendors' overly aggressive (sometimes described as “predatory”) auditing practices are all combining to make open source products increasingly attractive alternatives to their commercial counterparts.

The website ranks the popularity of open source and commercial database management systems. The criteria used to rank the databases includes measuring the number of references for the product on industry websites, Google searches and job postings as well as the number of mentions on professional and social networks, The chart from below provides a historical trend for commercial and open source database products. The lines should be converging sometime in 2017.


As of December 2016, the top commercial databases in web popularity were: Oracle (1), Microsoft SQL Server (3), DB2 (6) and Microsoft Access (7). The top open source products included MySQL (2), PostgreSQL(4), MongoDB(5), Cassandra(7), Redis (9) and SQL Lite (10).

In a 2016 Survey of 1,300 IT professionals performed by North Bridge and Black Duck, respondents stated that their use of open source software increased 65% since 2015. The survey group, comprising of 78% technical and 22% C-Suite, also stated that operating systems were the most commonly implemented open source software products followed closely by database management systems. The respondents then predicted that in the next 2 to 3 years, the cloud would be the top growth area for open source offerings. Databases would continue in the number 2 spot.  In the 2015 survey, respondents felt that access to the source code was the most attractive benefit of open source products.  This changed in the 2016 survey to features and functionality.

A March, 2016 article in Forbes magazine provides some additional open source database growth predictions by Gartner. The article titled How Postgres and Open Source are Disrupting the Market for Database Management Systems by Ben Kerschberg also contains an interesting interview with EDB CEO, Ed Boyajian. They discuss EDB's position in the database market and the company's database product being recently identified as a viable, mature replacement for commercial database offerings.

As a database consumer, open source products offer a cost-attractive alternative to their commercial counterparts. Not all of the database driven applications we are required to support require the extensive feature sets provided by the commercial products. In those cases, open source products should be considered as viable solutions. As these lower cost,  open source vendors close the feature/functionality gap with their commercial product counterparts, their market share will continue to grow as it would with any group of technology offerings possessing these traits.