Open-Source Database Market Roundup

Community Contributor
3 min read

The lock that long-time proprietary vendors have had on the database management system (DBMS) market is steadily eroding, even in the face of astounding industry growth. 

Overall, revenue growth is extraordinary for the industry in total. “Since its brief pause in 2015, the DBMS market has reeled off six consecutive years of growth, with the last five years all growing in the teens,” Gartner’s Merv Adrian writes in his blog. “Since 2017’s $38.6B year, the DBMS market has added $40B – doubling in 5 years.” 

Despite that growth, traditional proprietary DBMSs are getting squeezed. In early 2021, open-source DBMSs overtook commercially licensed versions in popularity for the first time and continued in the lead into 2022, according to DB-Engines. As of May 2022, open source continued to edge out vendors by 51.4% to 48.6%, providing clear indication that open-source database migration is shaking up the software industry. 

In its early years, open source was often viewed warily by enterprises — no doubt stoked by the hostility of vendors of proprietary software—but that’s no longer the case. Along with widespread enterprise adoption, many proprietary software vendors have embraced — and commercialized — the code and benefits of open source.  

“If you’re afraid of using open source, it’s too late,” explain Forrester analysts. “You’re unlikely to use a product today without open-source components. It’s almost certain that you’re reading this with a browser based on open-source technology, served by a web server that has an open-source core — all built with open-source tools.” 

The value of sharing code 

The roots of open-source software go back to early pioneers who believed that sharing code was essential to progression, and open-source DBMS offerings really began to emerge in the mid-1990s, Guy Harrison writes in Big Data Quarterly. But by 2010, a proliferation of open-source DBMSs that are continually updated by communities of contributors had upended proprietary vendor domination. 

“This explosion of new, open-source database technologies dramatically illustrated the innovation advantage of open source,” Harrison explains. “Commercial vendors, such as Oracle and Microsoft, seemed frozen in place while the open-source database community seemed to be moving at the speed of light.” 

While Oracle Database and Microsoft SQL Server continue to hold, respectively, the first and third spots in the DB-Engines ranking, open-source licensed DBMSs make up six of the top 10, including #2 (MySQL) and #4 (PostgreSQL). DB-Engines lists a total of 391 different database management systems, of which 203 are open source and 188 are commercially licensed. 

The top 5 open-source systems, April 2022 

Rank  System  Score  Overall Rank 
1.  MySQL  1204  2. 
2.  PostgreSQL  614  4. 
3.  MongoDB  483  5. 
4.  Redis  178  6. 
5.  Elasticsearch  161  7. 

 (Source: DB-Engines) 

Degrees of open? 

Tracking MySQL can be a tricky proposition. As Mike Wolfe writes on Towards Data Science, “Because MySQL is owned by Oracle, there are many restrictions when compared to other open-source relational database management systems.”  

Oracle does continue to offer a free-to-use MySQL Community Edition with a general public license (GPL) allowing users to modify the source code. But it also offers commercial MySQL versions that include support along with proprietary code and features not available in the Community Edition. 

Other purportedly open-source companies have also become more restrictive. MongoDB, for instance, changed the terms of the license for its open-source MongoDB project in 2018. “That change, which followed a similar change introduced by Redis Labs, another database company, sparked controversy over whether open-source projects that place restrictions on how they can be used deserve the backing of the open-source community — a community from which MongoDB was born, and one that forever changed enterprise software over the last decade,” Tom Krazit explains in a Protocol article. 

Transformational issue 

As more and more companies aim to transform through software-based business models, the proprietary versus open-source issue could be a critical issue when new products and services get to market. 

“Enterprise teams can’t innovate on proprietary code and instead must rely on the vendors to keep pace with the innovations necessary to succeed in a rapidly evolving digital landscape,” TechTarget contributor Mary K. Pratt explains 

“In contrast to proprietary data management software, the open source options are released under a license that lets users deploy the code to develop their own systems and also update, change, and modify it for their own needs,” Pratt continues. 

Open source can provide greater choice of platforms, data models, and vendors, as well as third-party support services options. However, it is incumbent on users to explore the licensing and support options, particularly the restrictions of commercialized versions of open-source software. It’s why so many turn to outside experts for help in migrating away from proprietary DBMSs to avoid the risks and reap maximum benefits.  

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