No free ride for not so open-source EnterpriseDB

Attempts by the database vendor's chief, Andy Astor, to associate the company with the open-source free software community have drawn flack from critics

EnterpriseDB, which sells an Oracle-compatible, PostgreSQL-based database for businesses, has begun offering support packages for PostgreSQL customers and has revised the subscription offerings for its own software.

However, the non-open source nature of the product has drawn criticism from some in the industry who claim EnterpriseDB is trying to present itself as open source while retaining some characteristics of proprietary software.

PostgreSQL itself is a highly regarded open source database, far more technically accomplished than rival open source database MySQL but generally lacking enterprise-class support. EnterpriseDB’s new offering is designed to provide that support while making it easier for PostgreSQL users to migrate to EnterpriseDB.

Support costs have become a major competitive issue in recent times. Late last year Oracle took a shot at Red Hat by offering low-cost support for a Red Hat Linux clone, and more recently Sun began offering cheap support for Open source Solaris 10 11/06.

The changes cap off a year of significant growth for EnterpriseDB, which only began selling its product in 2006. The company has since hired significant open source developers, raised US$20 million (NZ$28 million) in venture capital and netted several major customers.

EnterpriseDB’s software, while not itself open source, draws on open-source PostgreSQL and adds Oracle compatibility and significant performance gains.

The company’s PostgreSQL Basic Support package costs US$1,000 per CPU per year, provides certified binaries, web and email technical support during local business hours and access to a knowledge base and user forums.

The PostgreSQL Premium Support deal costs US$3,000 per CPU per year, adds 24x7 phone, email and web support, a one-time tuning service and optional additional PostgreSQL tuning services.

The company has split support for its own software into basic and premium packages. The basic package includes access to tools for migration and debugging, among other tools, as well as access to online support resources. The premium package adds telephone support, indemnification, a source code escrow and other bonuses.

Sun, which distributes PostgreSQL with Solaris, has selected EnterpriseDB for PostgreSQL support and training.

Other major customers signed up over the past year include Sony Online Entertainment and Vonage, both of which are using the EnterpriseDB Advanced Server database. In August the company picked up US$20 million in a financing round led by Fidelity Ventures.

The previous month it established a development fund aimed at sponsoring development of significant PostgreSQL features, contributing an initial US$25,000 to the fund. The company has hired significant PostgreSQL contributors including Bruce Momjian, Dave Page, Simon Riggs and Korry Douglas, all of whom joined the company in 2006.

The company’s early successes are drawing positive attention but criticisms as well. This is mainly focused on whether EnterpriseDB is doing enough to contribute back to the open source PostgreSQL ecosystem.

At present, EnterpriseDB doesn’t contribute all its developments back to PostgreSQL — such as its Oracle compatibility features.

On the other hand, it is keen to associate itself with “open source” as much as possible, a habit that has drawn the ire of some industry observers. Andy Astor, the company’s chief executive, said recently in a statement that the company’s success is evidence of “the positive effects of an open-source economy”. In November he was quoted as saying “Our offering is unique among open source databases.”

EnterpriseDB’s licensing terms are quite restrictive, allowing paying customers only to see and modify the code, but not to redistribute it. The company has promised to clarify its relationship to “open source” this month.

Bloor Research analyst Philip Howard said earlier this month that EnterpriseDB looks to be a serious contender in the enterprise. “The company only started seriously selling its product last year and it already has around 100 customers,” he said. “Small beer compared to Oracle, but with plenty of potential to grow.”

Among the company’s future plans, Howard observed that about 25% of EnterpriseDB’s Oracle migrations still need changes to be compatible, typically when customers are using advanced features such as RAC or the OCI interface.

“We can expect EnterpriseDB to address these issues in future releases,” he noted.

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