Image credit of Skorzewiak, licensed via Shutterstock, 2023.
Oracle has long been the primary target of database startups. Even Microsoft has taken a swing at it as far back as 20 years ago with SQL Server. And while there have been many successes in moving Oracle customers to a new database, it’s never become the movement that Oracle’s competitors had hoped for. And it’s not for lack of trying.
However, something strange has happened in the past years. Oracle users are falling more and more in love with PostgreSQL. Most of Oracle’s competitors who emerged over the past few decades are PostgreSQL-based. However, the recent attention is a new trend.
Conversely, ask any Oracle owner what system to move to if they left Oracle, and they will point to PostgreSQL. So, what’s going on? This sudden change of heart has a couple of good reasons.
PostgreSQL has caught up to Oracle
For the longest time, Oracle did have a leg up on its competitors, certainly back in the day. The technology is known for its maturity, and few other systems can claim to be as battle-tested as the good old Oracle database. Microsoft SQL Server was the first to challenge Oracle’s supremacy in the late 90s seriously. But while successful, SQL Server certainly didn’t quash Oracle.
PostgreSQL, on the other hand, has steadily chipped away at features and functionality. A band of enthusiasts has turned an academic prototype into a reliable workhorse. As with all software products, there will always be critics quick to point out perceived deficiencies. However, over the years, PostgreSQL has caught up with the market leaders quite well.
Critical to PostgreSQL’s success is the 80-20 principle. It stands to reason that 80% of users harness only about 20% of all features in an Oracle database. Ultimately, some things will work better on PostgreSQL, some not quite as well as on other systems. But for 80% of users, PostgreSQL will be perfectly well suited.
PostgreSQL is a 30-year overnight success
PostgreSQL has been around since the late 1980s and lived most of the time in the shadows of Oracle. It even has a decent query processor, one of those technology bits that take years and years to develop and is, therefore, often out of reach for startups. Always the underdog in the database race, its prospects dimmed further when MySQL entered the scene.
Unlike PostgreSQL, MySQL did not cater to general-purpose database practitioners. Instead, MySQL went directly after developers. Like several other newcomers, MySQL built out a user community for specific and often narrow application scenarios. For several years, MySQL had the limelight, which PostgreSQL never achieved.
And while others have gone in and out of fashion, PostgreSQL just plodded along. It always stayed true to its mission to serve serious database practitioners. Others would use one of the simpler, easier-to-administer, and quicker-to-deploy databases; however, experienced database admins preferred PostgreSQL.
The strategy of the PostgreSQL developer group seems to pay dividends finally. Its reputation as a solid, general database is recognized across the industry, at last.
PostgreSQL is open-source
If there is one thing Oracle users can agree on, it’s this: it is too expensive. For the external observer, all relationships with Oracle reps appear strained by haggling. Few vendors have a reputation as formidable as Oracle. It is no surprise, therefore, that many Oracle customers dream of the day they can sever ties with their vendor.
In contrast, PostgreSQL has been an open-source project since its inception. And while open-source is technically free of charge, it may be misleading in this context. No F500 company will run software without a support contract. Much less so when it comes to a database product with considerable responsibilities.
Instead, what enterprise customers care about is freedom from vendor lock-in. PostgreSQL may have its own SQL language and administration quirks; however, there are any number of PostgreSQL-compatible systems. Thus, enterprises feel less dependent on a single vendor and can overcome the lock-in of Oracle.
What’s next for PostgreSQL
With OpenDB, Datometry is taking the PostgreSQL story to the next level. By combining PostgreSQL with Datometry Hyper-Q, Datometry created the first Oracle-compatible database system. OpenDB is a drop-in replacement for Oracle to serve large parts of the market.