What is PostgreSQL and why do enterprise developers and start-ups love it?

Kris Sharma

on 19 January 2021

PostgreSQL is a powerful, open source object-relational database system that is known for reliability, feature robustness, and performance. PostgreSQL is becoming the preferred database for more and more enterprises. It is currently ranked #4 in popularity amongst hundreds of databases worldwide according to the DB-Engines Ranking.

The basics first – What is PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL is a relational database. It stores data points in rows, with columns as different data attributes. A table stores multiple related rows. The relational database is the most common type of database in use. It differentiates itself with a focus on integrations and extensibility. It works with a lot of other technologies and conforms to various database standards, that ensures it is extensible.

In recent years, many companies have officially supported the development of the PostgreSQL project. Let’s dig deeper into why it is gaining popularity.

Why use PostgreSQL?

An enterprise class database, PostgreSQL boasts sophisticated features such as Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC), point in time recovery, tablespaces, asynchronous replication, nested transactions, online/hot backups, a sophisticated query planner/optimiser, and write ahead logging for fault tolerance.

PostgreSQL works on most popular operating systems – almost all Linux and Unix distributions, Windows, Mac OS X. Its open source nature makes it easy to upgrade or extend. In PostgreSQL, you can define your own data types, build custom functions, and even write code in another programming language (e.g. Python) without recompiling the database. And, of course, PostgreSQL is free!

The reliable database

PostgreSQL isn’t just relational, it’s object-relational and supports complex structures and a breadth of built-in and user-defined data types. It provides extensive data capacity and is trusted for its data integrity.  This gives it some advantages over other open source SQL databases like MySQL, MariaDB and Firebird. PostgreSQL comes with many features aimed to help developers build applications, administrators to protect data integrity and build fault-tolerant environments.

It offers its users a huge (and growing) number of functions. These help programmers to create new applications, admins better protect data integrity, and developers build resilient and secure environments. PostgreSQL gives its users the ability to manage data, regardless of how large the database is.

The extensible database

In addition to being free and open source, PostgreSQL is highly extensible. There are two areas that PostgreSQL shines when users need to configure and control their database. First, it is compliant to a high degree with SQL standards. This increases its interoperability with other applications.

Second, PostgreSQL gives users, control over the metadata. PostgreSQL is extensible because its operation is catalog-driven. One key difference between PostgreSQL and standard relational database systems is that PostgreSQL stores much more information in its catalogs: not only information about tables and columns, but also information about data types, functions, access methods, and so on. These tables can be modified by the user, and since PostgreSQL bases its operation on these tables, this means that PostgreSQL can be extended by users. By comparison, conventional database systems can only be extended by changing hard-coded procedures in the source code or by loading modules specially written by the DBMS vendor.

How is PostgreSQL used?

PostgreSQL has a rich history for support of advanced data types, and supports a level of performance optimisation that is usually associated with commercial database counterparts, like Oracle and SQL Server. PostgreSQL is used as the primary data store or data warehouse for many web, mobile, geospatial, and analytics applications.

PostgreSQL can store structured and unstructured data in a single product.  Unstructured data, found in audio, video, emails and social media postings, can be used to improve customer service, discover new product requirements, and find ways to prevent a customer from churning among countless other uses.

PostgreSQL also has superior online transaction processing capabilities (OLTP) and can be configured for automatic fail-over and full redundancy, making it suitable for financial institutions and manufacturers. As a highly capable analytical database it can be integrated effectively with mathematical software, such as Matlab and R. Due to PostgreSQL’s replication capabilities, websites can easily be scaled out to as many database servers as you need.

PostgreSQL when used with the PostGIS extension, supports geographic objects, and can be used as a geospatial data store for location based services and geographic information systems (GIS).

Day-N operational challenges of using PostgreSQL

Despite the benefits, there are challenges that enterprises shall be faced with when it comes to PostgreSQL adoption. PostgreSQL has one of the fastest-growing communities but unlike traditional database vendors, the PostgreSQL community does not have the luxury of a mature database ecosystem. In addition, PostgreSQL is often used in tandem with several different databases, such as Oracle or MongoDB and each database requires specialised expertise and hiring technical staff with relevant PostgreSQL skill set can be a challenge for enterprises. In addition to management tools for PostgreSQL, DevOps teams and database professionals need to be able to manage multiple databases from multiple vendors without having to change existing processes.

Second, as PostgreSQL is open-source, different IT development teams within an organisation may start using it organically. This can give rise to another challenge – no single point of knowledge for all instances of PostgreSQL in enterprise IT landscape. Further, there is redundancy and duplication of work, as different teams may be solving the same problem with it, independently.

How can start-ups and larger enterprises deal with these challenges? Let’s look at a Canonical offering that aims to solve this.

Optimised PostgreSQL, managed for you

Managed PostgreSQL from Canonical is a trusted, secure, and scalable database service deployable on the cloud of your choice or on-prem. Never worry about maintenance operations or updates – we handle that for you.  With Canonical’s managing your PostgreSQL, you get the following benefits.

  • Canonical’s PostgreSQL experts manage your database servers. You do not have to go through the delay and difficulties of hiring DevOps engineers who know how to stand up a high availability cluster.
  • Canonical’s open source app management team does the heavy operational lifting so you can focus on building your applications.
  • Canonical will manage PostgreSQL on any conformant Kubernetes on the cloud of your choice or on-premise. This means, you get to bring your cloud, and we handle the rest.

Summary

PostgreSQL, an advanced enterprise class open source relational database backed by over 30 years of community development is the backbone to many key technologies and apps we use each day. Canonical supports PostgreSQL through a fully managed database service that automates the mundane task of application operations so enterprises and developers can focus on building their core apps with PostgreSQL. To optimise your deployment, improve quality and economics, speak to our PostgreSQL engineers today.

Get in touch for a PostgreSQL deployment assessment

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