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Six free databases with commercial-quality features

Microsoft, Oracle offer impressive free versions of their commercial offerings, but MariaDB wins our test

By Susan Perschke, Network World
December 03, 2012 12:08 AM ET

Network World - Free or open source databases run hundreds of millions of public-facing and private applications worldwide, but how effective is this technology and how do these products compare? For answers, we reviewed six popular free or open source database products: Microsoft SQL Server Express, PostgreSQL, Oracle's MySQL, MariaDB, Apache Derby and Firebird SQL.

When selecting candidates for our review we chose fully featured relational database management system (RDBMS) products with features such as procedures, functions, triggers and cursors. While we did not set out to perform scientific benchmarking, we did test large tables. For the test data, we used a truncated log file from one of our Web servers containing a million-plus records. The same test data was used across all six products. We ran standard tests such as bulk inserts/imports and performed data manipulation tasks via SELECT, UPDATE AND DELETE statements.

Watch a slideshow version of these products.

For our test environment we used 64-bit Dell rack servers running Windows Server 2008 R2. It should be noted that with the exception of MS SQL Server Express, all database products we tested are cross-platform capable.

The runners-up in our review are Microsoft SQL Server Express and Oracle's MySQL. From a GUI standpoint, SQL Server offers the best tools and the ability to upgrade to commercial editions should you need additional features and firepower that may be appealing to many database admins. The migration argument also applies to MySQL, as Oracle now offers a variety of commercial editions of MySQL. The top spot eluded MySQL for a couple of reasons; one is the lack of any useful native management tool. Second, although Oracle keeps assuring developers that it will support the core community edition of MySQL on an ongoing basis, Oracle has already started reserving certain features for its commercial versions.

Which brings us to our top choice, MariaDB, an open source product developed by essentially the same original team that developed MySQL before it was acquired by Sun, then Oracle. MariaDB can go everywhere MySQL can go, and when Oracle adds new closed source features to MySQL, MariaDB concomitantly adds some of the same features as open source. There is also the issue of performance and in our test we found MariaDB to perform just a notch better than all the others.

Rounding out our score card is PostgreSQL, Firebird and Apache Derby, in that order. Here are the individual reviews.

Open source net results

Microsoft SQL Server Express 2012

SQL Server Express is a free version of Microsoft's flagship database, SQL Server. Targeted at smaller-scale and embedded applications, Microsoft SQL Server Express is a feature-rich product that provides many of the core features of the commercial version with some limitations on scalability.

Specifically, these include limits on CPUs (one socket with max four cores), memory (1GB utilized, server can have more installed) and size of database (10GB). Of the six products we tested, this is the only one with any meaningful limits, although for many small to midsize organizations this should not be an issue.

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