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Open-source databases
Photo illustration by getty / Phil Leo / Michael Denora

Data is critical for business decisions. Today, companies are demanding faster access to analytics that rely on data coming from all kinds of sources containing structured and unstructured data. Databases and database technologies are evolving to better serve these needs. While traditional relational databases remain well-used tools for analysis, open-source databases (OSDBs) that can easily handle unstructured data are becoming essential for most businesses.

Relational databases use the relational model of tables, columns and rows to store data. SQL and stored procedures are used to query the data. Traditional relational databases are developed, maintained and supported by an ISV or similar software development companies. Relational databases continue to be an excellent way to store transactional and structured data. However, enterprises must process growing amounts of diverse data, which requires different sorts of database queries.

“In many cases, based on client requests, we look to optimize a database or other application for POWER8, often shooting for a goal of 2x performance on comparable POWER8 processors as compared to Intel.”
—Gerrit Huizenga, STSM, Power open-source ecosystem lead

The traditional database architecture is hitting limits in performance, causing enterprises to examine alternatives. “Traditional databases were not designed to cope with the scale and agile demands required by modern applications; nor were they created to leverage storage and processing power that are readily available today,” says Beth L. Hoffman, IBM executive IT specialist and big data and analytics ISV solution architect.

OSDBs, which have existed for a while, provide broader capabilities. Some support the traditional relational database model, while others support data using approaches beyond SQL-like query languages. For instance, NoSQL databases have dynamic schemas that provide more flexibility.

The proliferation of data types is driving the move to OSDBs, says Gerrit Huizenga, STSM, Power* open-source ecosystem lead. The standard Oracle or Microsoft* SQL server is focused on the relationship between defined data fields, which works well for some workloads. However, analytic workloads, which are a predecessor to cognitive and big data, require databases that operate differently and can yield effective answers or insights quickly. OSDB models include everything from key value databases to content store databases to multivalue databases that focus on multidimensional or freeform search. “Traditional database development isn’t necessarily as nimble as open source,” he explains.

The Linux Connection

The demand for open source and the Linux* OS is another reason organizations are employing OSDBs. Unlike their proprietary comrades, the source code for OSDBs is publicly available and customizable. The OSDB model relies on community support, which means you may get better response for less cost, Huizenga says.

Most OSDBs are supported on the Linux OS, which means enterprises that already use it can leverage their existing IT staff skills to maintain databases in Linux environments. Enterprises that have invested in big data environments on the Linux OS can extend their capabilities by running OSDBs on it. As enterprise IT budgets come under more scrutiny, OSDBs can help trim expenses. Traditional database software licenses can be costly, so enterprises are taking open source seriously, Hoffman adds. Corporate cultures are becoming more accepting of open-source technologies.

Enabling Workloads

All industries are looking to harness structured and unstructured data and use it for business decision-making. What company isn’t interested in harvesting and understanding the data available about them online these days? Or using the internet to identify and reach more clients? Web applications that interact with users in real time and then leverage this data are becoming common, Hoffman says. Some data is streamed in and analyzed in real time. Doing so requires different capabilities from what traditional databases can handle. Real-time web applications needing to access data from documents or glean information about relationships from large amounts of data are best suited for NoSQL databases.

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at



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