Authored by: Paul Mah, Tech Writer, EDB
For all the talk of building new digital capabilities to enhance efficiency and customer experience, the overheads of maintaining legacy systems can put a severe dent in modernisation efforts by taking up finite resources. Known as technical debt, a recent study by OutSystems of global IT decision-makers found that maintaining existing systems ties up almost 40 percent of the IT budget.
As Asia Pacific (APAC) organisations seek to innovate and forge ahead, a revamp of their existing database management system (DBMS) can play an important role to pare down this debt. And Marc Linster, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of EDB, thinks that an open-source DBMS such as PostgreSQL is a fantastic choice that can enable enterprises to overcome this obstacle and drive innovation.
An enabler for innovation
PostgreSQL stands out for two reasons, says Linster: A significantly lower cost and a robust feature set that is constantly improved. “PostgreSQL has a license and cost advantage. It is significantly cheaper even if you factor in third-party support, at just 10 to 20 per cent of a commercial database management system (DBMS),” he said.
As with all IT transformation projects, Linster acknowledged that the initial transition might be daunting with additional skill sets to learn, new vendors to engage with, and a less stratified open-source environment that businesses must get to grips with.
“But once you make the switch, the speed of innovation is unparalleled. You can drive innovation in a way that is very difficult to do with other databases. There are major new versions of PostgreSQL every year, compared with [traditional DBMS] where there might be years between releases. The speed of innovation is much, much higher for the former.”
To illustrate his point, Linster ticked off DBMS-centric innovations that originated from or were adopted by PostgreSQL first, such as introducing a data type for key/value pairs, integrated data structure, support for JSON, and the ability to create cast and data types with operators, among others.
“Open source tends to move a lot faster than closed source software. And especially as companies push towards digital transformation initiatives and building deeper engagements with their customers, that’s something where PostgreSQL can help.”
Features without the fluff
According to Linster, the linchpin to PostgreSQL’s rapid innovation boils down to its community-led, open-source development. Though there is no marketing department to speak of, the smorgasbord of contributions means there is a constant stretching of the DBMS technology envelope and a strong focus on developing new capabilities.
“One of the problems with a relatively mature technology is the pressure to produce new features even if it’s not needed. There is tremendous pressure to offer something new because competing products are going to look better otherwise,” he said of commercial software offerings.
“PostgreSQL doesn't have that inherent commercial mechanism. Nobody will go and pay money to develop a feature that they don’t need today. PostgreSQL is entirely driven by developments of new features; the team that develops it needs it. It is laser-focused on what the community needs.”
But isn’t a rapid cadence of development detrimental to core enterprise applications, where stability and backward compatibility are highly valued? In response, Linster argues that PostgreSQL has a strong record and is one of the most stable databases in the world.
“PostgreSQL is also very good in backward compatibility. Innovation does not mean forgetting about the past and just doing new things. Most of the features available 10 years ago are still available today. There are some deprecations, but they are very, very minimal.”
A versatile, extensible platform
Key drivers of PostgreSQL’s technical success are its support for different data types and semantics, as well as its extensible core, says Linster. The latter offers well-defined APIs for third-party extensions, resulting in a thriving ecosystem of solutions built around PostgreSQL.
Indeed, there are scores of popular open-source extensions developed to add new capabilities to PostgreSQL, including leading products such as TimescaleDB which was created to support time-series data. These extensions are also typically implemented in production environments.
Finally, the open-source nature of PostgreSQL has culminated in a diverse, vibrant environment where only the best ideas get adopted. While EDB is one of the largest contributors to PostgreSQL with around one-third of the code contributors and committers, Linster says it is hardly the dominant voice.
“The constant tension and vigorous discussions of open-source projects are maintained with PostgreSQL. This tension doesn’t exist in many of the other open-source projects driven by a single company. It is one of the reasons why PostgreSQL is outpacing the competition. With PostgreSQL, even competitors collaborate on the code. Except for Linux, I don’t know of any other community where this is happening.”
Stepping into the future
Linster dismisses the notion that many APAC firms are a step behind when it comes to technology, pointing to the high rate of technology adoption by South Korean businesses and the long history of contributing to PostgreSQL by Japanese conglomerates such as NTT and Fujitsu. “APAC is a complex market with very different market adoption patterns across the region,” he notes.
Of course, switching one’s DBMS does come with some attendant risk, and not every organisation will want to make that leap to open-source. With no single commercial vendor fronting PostgreSQL, Linster notes that adopting it will entail some willingness to “try new stuff” and “accept some risk”.
This would be where working with a qualified partner can greatly smooth the journey, says Linster as he made a brief nod to his firm: “Working with organisations like EDB when adopting Postgres and with Red Hat when adopting Linux can significantly mitigate that risk. We can bridge between the risks of adopting new stuff and be that reliable partner to work with to help ensure that the new systems get deployed quickly and run well.”