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On PostgreSQL. Interview with Bruce Momjian.

by Roberto V. Zicari on June 17, 2014

“There are four things that motivate open source development teams:
1. The challenge/puzzle of programming, 2. Need for the software, 3. Personal advancement, 4. Belief in open source”
— Bruce Momjian.

On PostgreSQL and the challenges of motivating and managing open source teams, I have interviewed Bruce Momjian, Senior Database Architect at EnterpriseDB, and Co-founder of the PostgreSQL Global Development Group and Core Contributor.

RVZ

Q1. How did you manage to transform PostgreSQL from an abandoned academic project into a commercially viable, now enterprise relational database?

Bruce Momjian: Ever since I was a developer of database applications, I have been interested in how SQL databases work internally. In 1996, Postgres was the only open source database available that was like the commercial ones I used at work. And I could look at the Postgres code and see how SQL was processed.

At the time, I also kind of had a boring job, or at least a non-challenging one, writing database reports and applications. So getting to know Postgres was exciting and helped me grow as a developer. I started getting more involved with Postgres. I took over the Postgres website from the university, reading bug reports and fixes, and I started interacting with other developers through the website. Fortunately, I got to know other developers who also found Postgres attractive and exciting, and together we assembled a group of people with similar interests.
We had a small user community at the time, but found enough developers to keep the database feature set moving forward.

As we got more users, we got more developers. Then commercial support opportunities began to grow, helping foster a rich ecosystem of users, developers and support companies that created a self-reinforcing structure that in turn continued to drive growth.

You look at Postgres now and it looks like there was some grand plan. But in fact, it was just a matter of setting up the some structure and continuing to make sure all the aspects continued to efficiently reinforce each other.

Q2. What are the current activities and projects of the PostgreSQL community Global Development Group?

Bruce Momjian: We are working on finalizing the version 9.4 beta, which will feature greatly improved JSON capabilities and lots of other stuff. We hope to release 9.4 in September/October of this year.

Q3. How do you manage motivating and managing open source teams?

Bruce Momjian: There are four things that motivate open source development teams:

* The challenge/puzzle of programming
* Need for the software
* Personal advancement
* Belief in open source

Our developers are motivated by a combination of these. Plus, our community members are very supportive of one another, meaning that working on Postgres is seen as something that gives contributors a sense of purpose and value.

I couldn’t tell you the mix of motivations that drive any one individual and I doubt many people you were to ask could answer the question simply. But it’s clear that a mixture of these motivations really drives everything we do, even if we can’t articulate exactly which are most important at any one time.

Q4. What is the technical roadmap for PostgreSQL?

Bruce Momjian: We are continuing to work on handling NoSQL-like workloads better. Our plans for expanded JSON support in 9.4 are part of that.

We need greater parallelism, particularly to allow a single query to make better user of all the server’s resources.
We have made some small steps in this area in v9.3 and plan to in v9.4, but there is still much work to be done.

We are also focused on data federation, allowing Postgres to access data from other data sources.
We already support many data interfaces, but they need improvement, and we need to add the ability to push joins and aggregates to foreign data sources, where applicable.

I should add that Evan Quinn, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, wrote a terrific research report, PostgreSQL: The Quite Giant of Enterprise Database, and included some information on plans for 9.4.

Q5. How do managers and executives view Postgres, and particularly how they make Postgres deployment decisions?

Bruce Momjian: In the early years, users that had little or no money, and organizations with heavy data needs and small profit margins drove the adoption of Postgres. These users were willing to overlook Postgres’ limitations.

Now that Postgres has filled out its feature set, almost every user segment using relational databases is considering Postgres. For management, cost savings are key. For engineers, it’s Postgres’ technology, ease of use and flexibility.

Q6. What is your role at EnterpriseDB?

Bruce Momjian: My primary responsibility at EnterpriseDB is to help the Postgres community.
EnterpriseDB supports my work as a core team member and I play an active role in the overall decision-making and the organization of community initiatives. I also travel frequently to conferences worldwide, delivering presentations on advances in Postgres and leading Postgres training sessions. At EnterpriseDB, I occasionally do trainings, help with tech support, attend conferences as a Postgres ambassador and visit customers. And of course, do some PR and interviews, like this one.

Q7. Has PostgreSQL still something in common with the original Ingres project at the University of California, Berkeley?

Bruce Momjian: Not really. There is no Ingres code in Postgres though I think the psql terminal SQL tool is similar to the one in Ingres.

Q8. If you had to compare PostgreSQL with MySQL and MariaDB, what would be the differentiators?

Bruce Momjian: The original focus of MySQL was simple read-only queries. While it has improved since then, it has struggled to go beyond that. Postgres has always targeted the middle-level SQL workload, and is now targeting high-end usage, and the simple-usage cases of NoSQL.

MySQL certainly has greater adoption and application support. But in almost every other measure, Postgres is a better choice for most users. The good news is that people are finally starting to realize that.

Q9. How do you see the database market evolving? And how do you position PostgreSQL in such database market?

Bruce Momjian: We are in close communication with our user community, with our developers reading and responding to email requests daily. That keeps our focus on users’ needs. Postgres, being an object-relational, extensible database, is well suited to being expanded to meet changing user workloads. I don’t think any other database has that level of flexibility and strong developer/user community interaction.

Qx. Would you like to add something?

Bruce Momjian: We had a strong PG NYC conference recently. I posted a summary about it here.

I think that conference highlights some significant trends for Postgres in the months ahead.

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Bruce Momjian co-founded in 1996 the PostgreSQL community Global Development Group, the organization of volunteers that steer the development and release of the PostgreSQL open source database. Bruce played a key role in organizing like-minded database professionals to shepherd PostgreSQL from an abandoned academic project into a commercially viable, now enterprise-class relational database. He dedicates the bulk of his time organizing, educating and evangelizing within the open source database community while acting as Senior Database Architect for EnterpriseDB. Bruce began his career as a high school math and computer science teacher and still serves as an adjunct profession at Drexel University. After leaving high school education, Bruce worked for more than a decade as a database consultant building specialized applications for law firms. He then went on to work for the PostgreSQL community with the support of several private companies before joining EnterpriseDB in 2006 to continue his work in the community. Bruce holds a master’s degree from Arcadia University and earned his bachelor’s degree at Columbia University.

Related Posts

- On PostgreSQL. Interview with Tom Kincaid. ODBMS Industry Watch, May 30, 2013

- MySQL-State of the Union. Interview with Tomas Ulin. ODBMS Industry Watch, February 11, 2013

Resources

- The PostgreSQL Global Development Group

- EnterpriseDB Postgres Plus Advanced Server

- MariaDB vs MySQL, Daniel Bartholomew, Sr. Technical Writer, Monty Program

- Evaluating the energy efficiency of OLTP operations:A case study on PostgreSQL.

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