Freedom in flexibility: why your database should be open source

In recent years, open-source technologies have gained a lot of popularity. Companies are increasingly discovering the advantages of working with open source as it loses its undeserved amateurish reputation. Unfortunately, that surge in popularity also has its downsides. There are a lot of misconceptions about what open source means out there, which makes it hard for IT executives to separate fact from fiction.

Hieda’s on a mission to popularise open-source databases, since we really believe in them and want to respond to the increase in market demand. However, we also believe that our clients should make an informed decision when they choose to work with us. We sat down with our managing partners Luc Robberechts and Bart Callens to clear up some misunderstandings on open source and understand why all organisations should at least consider an open-source database.

Open source and innovation

Let’s start with the basics: what does open source mean? It refers to the fact that an application’s source code is open, so accessible to the public. This means that everyone can view, download, and edit the code that is used to run that application. The base versions of these applications are free to use under the condition that any improvements made to the source code are publicly made available as well.

Open-source software has become hugely popular in recent years, powering some of the tech industry’s biggest success stories. At Hieda, we noted the market’s surging interest in open-source databases and managed services. Making sure people understood open source correctly was the catalyst for starting our own company.

Now that we’re talking about databases specifically, Facebook (now Meta) is a great example. Mark Zuckerberg chose MySQL for the first versions since it was free, and that same technology still powers Meta’s sites today.

Misconceptions and advantages

Unfortunately, the popularity of open-source technologies has also led to some misconceptions. We’ll go into greater detail on those misconceptions in one of our next blogs, but we should at least mention them. Consider this a condensed preview.

  • Open source is not ready for corporate use. While open source may have had humble beginnings, it is more than ready for enterprise use. Meta is far from the only tremendously popular site powered by open-source tech.
  • Open source is not secure. If you ask Luc and Bart, open-source applications are just as secure as their licensed counterparts, if not more. A vast community of volunteers and professionals means vulnerabilities are detected a lot faster, and a thorough vetting process prevents bad actors from introducing new ones.
  • Open source is free. The base versions of these applications are free, but we recommend support (and maybe customisation) for production environments. In any case, switching to open source will save your organisation the costs associated with licensing and mandatory updates. Open source does, however, give you the freedom to choose and switch providers: there is no more vendor lock-in.  
  • Open source is one-size-fits-all. Choosing the right technology and brand is a subject worthy of its own article. Implementation, configuration and customisation of applications require specialist knowledge and a trusted partner. This is as true for open source applications as it is for licensed software.

In short, there may be misconceptions, but it definitely has its advantages. Open source lets you leverage the power of a community while saving on licensing costs. In Bart’s words, “you can’t underestimate the power of thousands of motivated individuals when it comes to optimising a product.” With that out of the way, let’s zoom in on databases by examining the differences between community and enterprise editions.

Community and enterprise editions

This may lead to a bit of confusion, since the terms “community edition” and “enterprise edition” are not always used. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the difference. Let’s use Meta as an example again.  

Simply put, the difference between the two is customisation. Community editions are the basic editions of open source software. If you are Mark Zuckerberg coding a social network for a couple of fellow students in your free time, the basic version of MySQL will work just fine.  

“Enterprise editions”, even though they’re generally not referred to as such, are the customised and supported versions of the same software. If you are Meta and serve billions of customers across several platforms, you’re going to need customisation to improve efficiency and extensive support to make sure that you stay available to your customers. Customisations can include both functionalities and ease-of-use improvements like user interfaces.

A guiding hand

As you will have noticed by now, the choice is not always clear-cut. Depending on your company’s needs and your customer’s demands, both basic and customised versions of open source databases are valuable alternatives. That’s why a trusted partner like Hieda is an invaluable asset, even more so if we’re involved in the early stages of a project.  

We can help you decide on a technology thanks to our broad expertise, as well as implement that choice. If we both agree that customisation brings added value to your business, we can help you with that as well, but we don’t just push functionalities to meet the sales quota. Instead, we’re keen on building a long-term partnership based on mutual trust.

If you’re looking for someone to help you decide between technologies, implement and customise a certain technology, or both, give us a call. Together, we will make sure that your database fits your business like a glove.

April 6, 2022

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