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MariaDB's Xpand offers PostgreSQL compatibility without the forking drama

Play designed to swat CockroachDB and tempt users over from hyperscaler DBaaS systems

MariaDB is previewing a PostgreSQL-compatible front end in its SkySQL Database-as-a-Service which provides a globally distributed RDBMS on the back end.

Dubbed Xpand, the move is designed to appeal to users who manage their own PostgreSQL databases, as well as those with generic PostgreSQL-compatible DBaaS systems offered by AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

Speaking at the company's OpenWorks conference in New York yesterday, CEO Michael Howard said Xpand had the advantage of using an "unforked" version of PostgreSQL, unlike CockroachDB, which he claimed had rebuilt PostgreSQL for its distributed RDBMS.

Xpand offers performance and reliability advantages over Aurora, the AWS PostgreSQL DBaaS, he claimed. He also said it has the advantage of using open source PostgreSQL tools such as PG Admin, a tool widely used by administrators to manage and monitor their applications.

Domenic Ravita, principal product evangelist at Cockroach Labs, defined the company's approach.

"I believe if [PostgreSQL author] Micheal Stonebreaker were to rewrite PostgreSQL today, he would probably follow the same principles as CockroachDB. He would build a natively distributed, cloud-native, multi-region, multi-cloud solution that is still compatible with PostgreSQL," he said.

Nonetheless, MariaDB claims to have done something similar, albeit by using distributed SQL as a back-end database engine. As well as PostgreSQL, it would be available for a MariaDB front end, and in the near future MySQL – from which MariaDB was forked.

"We will not touch the PostgreSQL code base and fork it," Jags Ramnarayan, SVP for SkySQL, told The Register. "We're only using the extension point, specifically, a thing called foreign data wrappers. That's what we use to then give you this boosting engine behind PostgreSQL."

He said it was conceptually similar to CockroachDB and Yugabyte – which has a back end based on Google Spanner – but offered developers full PostgreSQL compatibility.

MariaDB claimed its benchmarks showed PostgreSQL with Xpand was scaling up to five times the number of users at twice the throughput, compared to PostgreSQL on its own and other popular cloud providers.

A bold plan

Regardless of the reliability of vendor-provided benchmarks, one analyst was impressed.

Carl Olofson, research vice president at IDC, told The Register the new product would appeal to multinational businesses.

"It's a bold, ambitious plan because what they're talking about is non-trivial technology. It's not just multi-location; it's true geo-distribution over time," he said.

"MariaDB's expectation is that they'll be able to provide a single synchronous database across regions which puts them in a category with Google Spanner and CockroachDB and products like that. It is pretty tough stuff."

In addition, he suggested that it would appeal to PostgreSQL users who administered their own databases using its admin tools.

"There's a number of users out there who have community versions of PostgreSQL they would administer themselves because they're not totally satisfied with the implementations of any vendor. They're potentially prospects for Xpand," he said.

Olofson said that outside of the cloud providers, he believes the only other option for cloud deployment of PostgreSQL is EnterpriseDB's Big Animal, a conventional database implemented in the cloud, and not a distributed system.

PostgreSQL is the fourth most popular database on ranking system DB Engines, behind Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft's SQL Server. It soars well above MariaDB, which sits in the 13th spot.

Olofson said MariaDB's support for PostgreSQL could have a knock-on effect on the latter's community contributions.

"The leading contributor to PostgreSQL is EnterpriseDB, but I think that you're going to see people like MariaDB becoming much more active now," Olofson said. Users can now sign up for a preview with general availability coming soon, MariaDB said. ®

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