When the 250-store California supermarket chain Save Mart Supermarket began making plans to roll out a time and attendance tracking application to manage its 20,000 workers, Oracle was not on its list of preferred databases, even though the company has some older versions running in-house.
"They just treat us so poorly, with such disdain and arrogance," said Save Mart CIO James Sims in a recent interview. "I told them directly: 'We'll do everything we can to not do business with you.'"
Instead, Save Mart went with the open-source Ingres database, which competes with the likes of EnterpriseDB and Sun's MySQL.
Like other commercial open-source companies, Ingres makes money by selling support contracts, and presents itself as a more affordable alternative to buying more licenses for Oracle, IBM DB/2 or other proprietary databases. But it is still tiny in comparison to the giants, logging just US$68 million in revenue during 2008, and doesn't yet have the same level of features.
However, its technology was enough for Save Mart's system, which tracks and aggregates workers' in-and-out time-card punches, Sims said. It is crucial for the application to run properly because of state and union penalties Save Mart could incur for making errors in compensating employees, he added.
The system "is not gigantic, but it's working very efficiently," he said. "I would not be concerned about implementing Ingres for a much larger-scale solution."
The New York investment bank Cowen Group is using Ingres as well for a new programme trading portal, which its clients will use to access financial data.
The application uses Salesforce.com's customer portal software as a front end, said CIO Daniel Flax. Users will be able to look at prebuilt analytic data sets, "as well as do drill-downs and request new kinds of information," Flax said.
Cowen is using the project as a "proving ground" for Ingres, he said. The bank uses a variety of commercial database products, including "major platform players," but Flax declined to name them.
It considered a range of databases for the portal project, including MySQL, but decided on Ingres due to a combination of cost, maturity and features, Flax said.
The company also had some uncertainty about MySQL's future, since Sun is being acquired by Oracle, according to Flax.
While Cowen and Save Mart have placed bets on Ingres, the database may not be ideal for all customers, according to analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research.
"There is a limited number of open-source DBMSes with significant customer bases," Monash said. "Of those, I would say that for transaction processing up to a certain volume and complexity, Ingres is the most proven."
But others have specific advantages, he said. For example, MySQL has an edge in extreme scalability, and PostgreSQL — which EnterpriseDB is based on — has stronger datatype support, Monash said.
"Basically, Ingres is an old-school, general-purpose DBMS that fell behind the state-of-the-art in the 1990s, but for many needs does a perfectly good job," Monash said. "If you have extreme needs in some area or another, it's probably not the product for you."