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The Inexorable Rise of PostgreSQL

by  Matt Yonkovit, Percona (sponsor) , 24 September 2021
Tags: Open source DBMS, Percona, PostgreSQL

This is a sponsored post.

Percona's Matt Yonkovit shares his view on why PostgreSQL is currently the hottest database in town, how liberal licensing has led to mass adoption, and why you should consider a switch to PostgreSQL.

Everyone loves new technology! 
 
The hype cycle for technology often captures the attention of the market right out of the gate. Declared “the technology that will replace all other market leaders,” it grabs headlines, changes companies’ directions, and generates a huge buzz. 
 
But, often, this hot new technology rapidly slows down. Sometimes it's replaced over time, and sometimes it just settles into a more normal growth trajectory. How many times have we seen “this company will be the next X,” and it hasn’t quite happened? Certainly, this cycle has been repeated many times during my career. 
 
This can make it difficult to champion the newest shiny bauble, that hot database technology set to dominate the future and lead many established and emerging technology companies to bet big... 
 
The difference this time is the “hot new database” has been around for over 20 years and is approaching its 14th release. 
 
Yes, I am talking about PostgreSQL
 
It is the current darling of the database world, and with good reason. But, it brings up some thorny questions: 
1. Why has PostgreSQL risen to the top? 
2. Perhaps more importantly, how long will it stay there?
 

The Power of Open Source

While many other database technologies have risen and fallen, PostgreSQL has stood the test of time. It has grown every year, not just in feature sets, but also in popularity. 
 
PostgreSQL is the world’s most advanced open source relational database. It is riding the wave of surging popularity, with the latest Stack Overflow Developer Survey ranking it as the “most wanted” database and DB-Engines crowning it DBMS of the year, 2020.
 
What is particularly interesting is how different PostgreSQL’s governance and ownership model is compared to other databases in the market. It is not controlled by a single corporate entity; it stands out as one of the few independently managed and governed projects in the industry. 
 
PostgreSQL has one of the most liberal open source licenses. This allows it to be shared, used, forked, and built upon by 100s of different companies. The liberal nature of its license has enabled spin-off projects, both commercial and open source, which benefit from some (or even all) of the work done by the community. 
For those of you familiar with sports teams, let me use an analogy. Sometimes you have a great coach who is not only great at coaching the team but also at training and creating other great coaches. This is called the “coaching tree.” 
 
PostgreSQL’s coaching tree is solid, with projects and products like EDB, TimescaleDB, Greenplum, Citus, Yugabyte, CockroachDB, AWS RDS, Percona Distribution for PostgreSQL, Crunchy PostgreSQL, etc. These are just a few of the seeds planted by the core PostgreSQL project. When you compare this with the projects spun-off from other top databases, PostgreSQL stands alone. 
 

Encouraging Innovation

Over the years, the core feature set of PostgreSQL has continued to mature and refine, but getting code directly into the PostgreSQL server is not always easy. The team maintains tight control over new features and code. 
 
While this can cause concerns for some contributors looking for officially supported features, the architecture of PostgreSQL was designed to allow for new features to be developed and shipped as extensions. This effectively isolates new code that could be buggy, introduce variability, or even create support nightmares from code debt. This approach is not unique. MySQL and MariaDB also have a plug-in architecture; however, it has not proven as popular as PostgreSQL. 
 
This extensibility allows users and companies like Percona to create software that enhances PostgreSQL for specific use cases without completely forking the code. In fact, 45 different community-supplied extensions have been included in the official contributed additional modules (available in the contrib folder) that ships with PostgreSQL, and thousands more extensions exist outside the official channels. 
 
Additionally, many companies maintain their own forks and “enterprise versions” of PostgreSQL. These extensions, forks, and projects are made possible due to the liberal PostgreSQL license, which allows anyone to start from that core PostgreSQL package.  
 
This liberal license is great for the adoption of PostgreSQL in general, but it does lead to a risk that you could find yourself using a “sort of open-source version” that may not be 100% compatible with future releases. You need to be careful that the version you choose for your business is genuinely open source and compatible with the core PostgreSQL software.
 

The Impact of the Community

You can trace much of the power of PostgreSQL back to its loyal community and strong group of contributors
 
The PostgreSQL community comprises hundreds of thousands of users worldwide, along with hundreds of companies contributing tooling, patches, and extensions. This broad and diverse group of companies selling and investing in PostgreSQL gives the community a massive advantage. 
 
When you look at a company-controlled open source project or database, you often see a single company focused on marketing and promotion, assuming almost sole responsibility for the education and content that surrounds that product. 
 
In the case of PostgreSQL, hundreds of different companies provide marketing, engineering, sales, training, and education in the space. All of the companies participating in the community increase awareness and demand and propel the project forward. 
 
This power (and desire) to drive adoption as a group is a massive strategic advantage. 
 
Think of it like this: Oracle is driving awareness for its flagship database, with some of its partners contributing a little. But, in the PostgreSQL community, you have all the cloud providers (Microsoft, AWS, Google, and others), along with the larger PostgreSQL vendors (such as Percona, EDB, CrunchyData, Ongres, etc.), along with the diverse community projects, all working together to drive awareness and adoption. There is a lot of power behind those names. 
 
These companies also provide users with a vast amount of choice, a massive benefit to those who adopt PostgreSQL. It means that if you don’t like one provider, you can easily try another. 
 
The ‘power of the many’ brings significant advantages here, increasing innovation, features, and tooling. PostgreSQL13 (soon to be 14) is already a fantastic general-purpose database, but companies build on top of this, creating a great “NewSQL” database, a great Analytics database, etc. 
 
More engineers, more companies, and more contributors allow for diversity and growth that can often be much slower or even absent in larger companies (where groupthink can be a genuine concern). At PostgreSQL, it leads to smarter solutions and faster innovation. 
 

Diversity and Healthy Debate

Obviously, it’s not always totally smooth sailing. Like any community, there are disagreements and arguments on the best way to move forward. Recently we saw some concern over the ownership of trademarks and the overall governance of the project. This led to heated debate, with different community members seeming at odds with each other. 
 
From the outside, this may look bad, but this open debate and discussion within a community is common and usually healthy. Part of what makes open source so great is bringing together ideas from different people with different perspectives and adopting the best of them all. Not everyone will be happy with the outcome, but as long as we continue to discuss, debate, and evolve, we can all be successful. 
 
PostgreSQL’s open development model, liberal licensing, and rich feature set have created a very loyal user base and an army of companies working to drive adoption and continue to keep that user base happy. The momentum behind PostgreSQL shows no sign of slowing down, and I predict it will continue to grow over the next few years. It would not surprise me if it eventually ends the dominance of MySQL, taking over the top spot. 

 

About the Author:
Matt Yonkovit portrait photo
 

Matt Yonkovit is Head of Open Source Strategy, Percona

He has been in the Open Source Database Community for over 15 years working for MySQL AB, Sun Microsystems, Mattermost, and Percona. Matt has held technical roles, management, and executive roles (including Chief Customer Officer, Chief Experience Officer, VP of Global Services) serving the open source community. He is currently Percona's head of open source strategy, focused on helping developers, architects, and DBA's get the most out of their open source database investments no matter what database or how they use them. Matt lives in Raleigh NC.





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