EDB Postgres CEO stays focused amid changing database times

Ed Boyajian, CEO of open source database firm EDB, wants to be the core database provider to enterprises

It’s been, Google Search tells me, 10 years since last I spoke to EnterpriseDB, the relational database company that was among a mob of open source firms that followed in the footsteps of Red Hat and entered through the doors of enterprises that the Linux giant had earlier kicked in.

Times have changed a fair bit since then. Open source, once exotic and provocative, has settled in to become part of the corporate IT furniture while the database sector has become variegated with the rise of NoSQL, graph and other new approaches.

Throughout, EDB, the name the company prefers these days, has stuck with its strategy to commercialise the Postgres open source RDBMS “in the same way that Red Hat does with Linux,” CEO Ed Boyajian tells me over a recent phone call.

That approach in some ways appears to point him towards competing with some scary opposition in the shape of Oracle, IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server. Indeed, Massachusetts-headquartered EDB used to best known for ticking the lion’s belly, having found ways to mimic Oracle functionality. Today, the company is a bit less focused on Oracle (more of which later) and the plan has broadened in scope a little

“What we’ve done is to build an enterprise-class and enterprise-oriented database to address that broad range of workloads,” Boyajian says. “[EDB is] a true core database company, developing and engineering database code in close combination with the community.”

Boyajian is six years into his stint as boss, having previously worked at Red Hat where, as it happens, he first came across Postgres. Before that he was a captain in the US Army. His mission at EDB is centred on a quarter of opportunities: replace traditional ‘legacy’ databases, become a platform for new applications, serve modernised applications and help companies re-platform, for example to the cloud. Boyajian speaks of the company as providing a platform with backup, failover and other features alongside data connectors to the likes of MongoDB and Hadoop in polyglot organisations that run multiple database systems.

“As companies are taking advantage of more data being available there are great fits for purpose-specific databases that have emerged,” Boyajian says. “Often they’re complementary and often they’re in non-mission-critical places on the edge, particularly doing some of the analytics.”

Boyajian says he has no plan to beat the new players at their own games and he stresses that EDB is focused being the core database and often the document database too, providing a control plane over other databases. There’s also a play in the cloud where EDB works with AWS and OpenStack on a partnering basis.

Something must have been working as Boyajian’s crew of 280 people recently celebrated 29 consecutive quarters of revenue growth, although he declines to talk about revenue scale or profitability. EDB serves about 90 of the Fortune 500, often working alongside the aforementioned triumvirate of Oracle. IBM and Microsoft and taking share from them where possible. Customers include MasterCard, Ericsson, Gap, AT&T and his former paymasters in the US Army.

Oracle remains a target and Boyajian pitches EDB as a way to claw back money and as a means of restoring control. Is it about assuaging the customer’s fear of lock-in?

“It’s not fear of lock-in, they just got locked in,” he says. “These contracts are onerous and burdensome and weigh them down. Oracle databases can be the single biggest line item in the IT budget … they’re notoriously expensive. And what’s changed in the game is that you can do 70 to 80 per cent of what you need to do with Postgres and open source databases.”

Boyajian won’t talk about the possibility of a future IPO but says he is intent on driving a lean machine based on high-value sales and marketing discipline. Oracle, IBM and Microsoft are very tough competitors but there plenty of opportunities to win business around them among companies not wedded to the giants.