For very high-end applications, the list of viable database management systems is short. Scalability can be a problem. (The rankings of most scalable alternatives differ in the OLTP and data warehouse realms.) Extreme levels of security can be had from only a few DBMS. (Oracle would have you believe there’s only one choice.) And if you truly need 99.99% uptime, there only are a few DBMS you even should consider.
But for most applications at any enterprise – and for all applications at most enterprises – super high-end DBMS aren’t required. There are relatively few applications that wouldn’t run perfectly well on PostgreSQL or EnterpriseDB today. Ingres and Progress OpenEdge aren’t far behind (they’re a little lacking in datatype support). Ditto Intersystems Cache’, although the nonrelational architecture will be off-putting to many. And to varying degrees, you can also do fine with MySQL, Pervasive PSQL, MaxDB, or a variety of other products – or for that matter with the cheap or free crippled versions of Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, and Informix.
What’s more, these mid-range database management systems can have significant advantages over their high-end brethren. The biggest is often price, for licenses and maintenance alike. Beyond that, they can be much easier to administer then their more complex counterparts. For example, Progress OpenEdge and Informix SE have long been reseller favorites, in large part because they can be installed at small businesses and locations that lack technical staff, and rarely if ever require DBA attention. Programming and hardware costs can sometimes be lower as well.
And what these mid-range DBMS don’t do today, they likely will do soon. In the 1990s, Microsoft SQL Server was the mid-range entry threatening to disrupt the market. But it’s grown up quite nicely. EnterpriseDB is equal or superior in every way I can think of to Oracle7, a few security certifications perhaps excepted. (They’d probably argue the release number in that claim should be 1 or 2 higher, but I’d have to compare their multimedia support to what I recall of Oracle 8.1.5 before I agreed.)
Will these mid-range database management systems truly “disrupt” the DBMS market, as many open source advocates hope? Or will they be largely co-opted into the oligopoly, as Microsoft SQL Server was? That’s a discussion for another time. For now, please just keep your mind open to DBMS alternatives – the high-end approach is not always the best.
EDIT: For a contrary view, please see my follow-up post making the opposite case.