Open Enterprise Interview: Denis Lussier

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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.

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