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PostgreSQL vs. Oracle: Which Database Is Right for Your Project?

If your business is looking to start a relational database-driven project, the choice might come down to PostgreSQL or Oracle.

BairesDev Editorial Team

By BairesDev Editorial Team

BairesDev is the leading nearshore technology solutions company with 4,000+ professionals in 50+ countries representing the top 1% of tech talent.

10 min read

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Businesses live and die by data. Collect enough data, use it wisely, and your business will flourish. That data can help your company make better business decisions for your services, products, and even your future. With the right data, you can save money and resources as well as grow your customer and/or client base.

It’s all winning, once you start working with the right database.

That, of course, is one of the key issues when you’re in the planning phase of your project. Use the right database and things will go smoothly. Use the wrong database and your project could likely fail.

Yes, this decision is that important. To further complicate matters, there are a fairly large number of databases to choose from. Even before you select a specific database, you have to select the type of database, for which there are two main types: relational and NoSQL.

Simply put, if you’re working with big data, you’ll probably go with a NoSQL database; otherwise, a relational database will probably work out. A more specific difference between these two types of databases looks like this:

  • Relational databases are the most popular databases in use. These databases are very mature, store data in tables with a fixed schema, and use the SQL query language to manage data and allow ACID guarantees (more on that later).
  • NoSQL databases are high-performance, non-relational stores of data. These types of databases are easy to use (because data is not structured), support massive scale, and are very resilient. If you need to work with large troves of data with speed, the NoSQL database might be what you want. One caveat to NoSQL databases is that they don’t typically provide ACID guarantees. 

Both of these databases are considered relational database management systems (DBMS). What that means is each database contains everything you need to manage your databases. That’s an important factor, especially if you don’t want to depend on third-party software to take care of managing your databases.

What is an ACID guarantee?

ACID stands for atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability and is a set of properties assigned to database transactions to guarantee data validity even when errors, power failures, and other issues occur. For any organization that must have a certain level of confidence in the validity of the data used, an ACID guarantee could be a deal maker. Only a few NoSQL databases are ACID compliant (such as OrientDB and FoundationDB), whereas most relational databases are. 

Because of this, when data integrity is required but not massive scaling, the relational database is a great choice. Two outstanding relational databases are PostgreSQL and Oracle Database. Where PostgreSQL is an open-source database, Oracle Database is proprietary. Between these two databases, there are plenty of similarities and differences and we’re going to focus on a specific set of criteria to help you make the best decision for your new project.

PostgreSQL vs. Oracle Database: Compatibility

The first thing to mention between PostgreSQL and Oracle Database is that where Oracle Database can only be installed on Linux and Windows computers, PostgreSQL can be installed on Linux, macOS, and Windows. This alone could determine your decision, especially if you need to run a database (or develop) on a macOS machine. Should that be the case, the only logical choice is PostgreSQL.

Another option for macOS is to install a virtual machine tool (such as VirtualBox), install a Linux guest, and run the database from the virtual machine. That, of course, isn’t exactly a practical solution. However, if your company is a macOS shop and you need to run Oracle Database, the virtual solution may be the only choice.

Let’s pull back a bit and take a look at the bigger compatibility picture, where we see the following:

  • Both PostgreSQL and Oracle Database support replication.
  • Both include object-relational mapping (ORM) framework support.
  • PostgreSQL has support for a much larger collection of APIs, which makes it more compatible with applications, add-ons, and SQL environments.
  • Both support JDBC, OBDC, OLE DB, and the .NET library.

It’s also important to know that you can import Oracle Database data to PostgreSQL with the help of a few tools:

  • Ora2Pg migrates whole projects.
  • Oracle foreign data wrappers (oracle_fdw) move schemas and data.
  • Orafce ensures functional compatibility.
  • EnterpriseDB (EDB) Migration Toolkit migrates Oracle to PostgreSQL.

The migration process is quite challenging and can be very time-consuming (especially with larger sets of data), which is yet another reason why you’ll want to be certain to choose the right database for your project. That choice might come down to value.

Another compatibility issue to consider is query language, which is the language used to send queries to databases. PostgreSQL uses a variant of the SQL standard, which is called Postgres query language. The Postgres query language has numerous extensions for SQL such as an extensible type system, inheritance, functions, and production rules. That being said, it is not a drop-in replacement for SQL, so your database developers/managers will have to learn the subtle differences between the two.

As for Oracle Database, it uses traditional SQL as its query language, so if your database engineers have worked with a database that uses SQL (such as MS SQL and MySQL), they shouldn’t have any problems getting up to speed with Oracle Database.

PostgreSQL vs. Oracle Database: Value for Money

This one is quite simple. PostgreSQL is free, and Oracle Database is not. Oracle is a commercial product that carries with it some steep pricing, which can run all the way up to $47,000 for an enterprise license. You’ll also pay extra for added features. PostgreSQL, on the other hand, is an open-source solution, which means it’s completely free. And given both of these solutions solve similar problems, it’s hard to beat the value for money you get with PostgreSQL. 

There’s one tiny hitch in the value-for-money aspect. Remember that Oracle Database uses a straight-up SQL query language and PostgreSQL uses a modified version. If you have a team of database engineers who’ve spent their entire career using SQL, and you all of a sudden throw an SQL variant at them, they’ll have a learning curve to deal with. Not that the challenge will be terribly trying. After all, PostgreSQL’s query language is a variant of SQL, not a completely new way of doing things. Because of this, that learning curve is shallow and most database engineers should be able to get up to speed fairly quickly.

If you want your teams working immediately with the database, even though Oracle might have a steeper price tag, depending on your database engineers, the cost of getting them up to speed with PostgreSQL could level that budgetary playing field.

Another factor to take into consideration is system requirements. The minimum system requirements for Oracle Database are 2 GB of RAM (although 8 is suggested as the real minimum) and 10 GB of disk space. With PostgreSQL, the minimum requirements are a 1 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, and at least 512 MB of storage. Of course, the PostgreSQL minimum storage is for database installation only. You will certainly want considerably more space for data.

What this says, however, is important when you start dealing with clustering and failover. It’s going to require considerably more powerful hardware to run an Oracle Database cluster. This means PostgreSQL is going to be considerably cheaper to run from a hardware standpoint.

That value for money could go out the window when it comes to support.

PostgreSQL vs. Oracle Database: Support

As far as support is concerned, you might think the proprietary solution would win hands down. However, PostgreSQL has a massive community, which means support is pretty easy to find with a quick search. So not only are you getting the database management system free with PostgreSQL, but you’re also getting a global community for support. That doesn’t mean, however, that Oracle Database support pales in comparison. But a global community versus a much smaller collection of support specialists working for Oracle can mean the difference between you solving a problem very quickly or waiting for a support specialist to get back to you.

Do a quick search for PostgreSQL and you’ll find tons of available help. You’ll find links for:

Although it might take your developers, designers, and engineers a bit more time to track down the answers to the questions they have, there are at least plenty of routes to take with PostgreSQL.

That doesn’t mean Oracle Database isn’t without free options for support. For example, there’s the Oracle Community forum, where you can register and post questions to other Oracle Database engineers.

On one hand, you have a completely free database with a global network of support, and on the other, a costly, proprietary solution with a fixed number of support specialists. In the end, if your project budget is tight, PostgreSQL is the clear winner. If money is no object and you prefer to have the backing of a known commodity, Oracle Database is the obvious solution.

It all comes down to budget. If you’ve got it, Oracle is great. If you’ve not got the budget, PostgreSQL is your database.

PostgreSQL vs Oracle Database: Price

We’ve already talked about the sticker shock that can come with Oracle Database, but that’s not the only price point you’ll find. For example, the Standard Edition 2 has the following pricing:

  • Named User Plus (per user license) – $350
  • Software Update License & Support (support per user ) – $77
  • Processor License – $17,5000
  • Software Update License & Support – $3,850

There’s also another option for Oracle Database, which is cloud hosted. By going this route, you don’t have to worry about paying for hardware. This can be especially important when you’re having to scale out with more and more hardware. If the cloud option sounds like a good fit for your company, you can use their cost estimator to get an idea of how much it’ll cost to use Oracle Database in the cloud.

The idea of price has now become a bit more cloudy. On one hand, you have PostgreSQL which is completely free and can run on commodity hardware, has a global (and free) community for support, but could be a bit costlier if your database engineers aren’t familiar enough with the PostgreSQL query language.

On the other hand, you have a very costly database that also offers a cloud-hosted option to save money on hardware. At the same time, Oracle Database uses the SQL query language, which your database engineers probably already know and can jump into using immediately.

PostgreSQL vs. Oracle Database: Security

Given your database will probably contain very sensitive information, security will be a key factor in your choice. One big factor for this decision is that with Oracle Database, to get access to the advanced security features, you’ll have to pay for the more costly editions. However, if you do pay that price, you’ll get a more robust set of security features with Oracle Database.

That doesn’t mean PostgreSQL is lacking in the realm of security. PostgreSQL features roles and inherited roles to make it possible to get granular with permissions; supports native SSL for encrypting all database server communication; and provides added access controls via SE-PostgreSQL that leans heavily into SELinux’s security policy. 

With Oracle Database you’ll enjoy much more robust and resilient databases via security assessments, data protection, auditing, and monitoring tools. You’ll also have better isolation between pluggable databases as well as independent key encryption management.

Oracle also includes transparent data encryption, privileged user controls, mandatory access control, data masking and subsetting, database authentication and authorization, and a data safe.

PostgreSQL security features include the likes of user authentication, usernames and groups, access control, functions and rules, and secure TCP/IP connections.

This is one area where Oracle Database clearly shines. Of course, one would expect a proprietary solution to offer more in the way of security than a free option. That doesn’t mean PostgreSQL is an insecure database. You must also take into consideration that there are far more pieces to the security puzzle than the DBMS tool itself. There’s the hosting server, other software installed on the server, users, configurations, and firewalls. Consider this: Install Oracle Database on a Windows machine and it’s going to be less secure than PostgreSQL running on, say, Red Hat Enterprise Linux. 

As far as security is concerned, not only do you need to consider the database, but the hosting server, the database engineers, and your network. If any one of those things is less than ideal, your database could be vulnerable.

To that end, security is an all-or-none proposition. Either every element is secure or none of them are. But every IT pro, developer, operations manager, and database engineer understands this quite well. 

One security advantage Oracle Database does have is the inclusion of the Database Security Assessment Tool (DBSAT), which helps identify areas where your database (configuration, operation, and implementation) could introduce risks and even recommends the necessary changes and controls to mitigate any security issues it finds.

As for PostgreSQL security, you’ll need to take be responsible for the following tasks to ensure security:

  • Using one-way encryption for values that do not require decryption.
  • Separating and isolating sensitive datasets to different physical machines.
  • Blocking external connections to the database.
  • Limiting database logging to prevent revealing sensitive information.
  • Constantly updating and patching the database server (both OS and database).

In the end, both databases can be made secure, but only one includes a built-in command-line tool for the purpose.

Conclusion

Both PostgreSQL and Oracle Database are powerhouses in the relational database world. At some point your company will have to turn to a relational database, and when you do, you’ll want to be able to make an informed decision.

If you want a database that is free, open source, and has a global community for support, PostgreSQL is an outstanding choice. If, however, security and corporate support are key and money is no object for your project, Oracle Database can fit the bill.

The good news is that either way you go, you’ll wind up with a powerful database server that can fill just about any need, so long as you’re not talking massive troves of unstructured data. Should that be the case, you’ll have to turn to a NoSQL database. But for those structured databases with locked-in schema, two of the most popular options available are PostgreSQL and Oracle Database.

With the right team of developers, network specialists, and database engineers, either one of these relational DBMS will serve your company now and into the future.

To find out more about these databases, check out the respective websites for PostgreSQL and Oracle Database.

BairesDev Editorial Team

By BairesDev Editorial Team

Founded in 2009, BairesDev is the leading nearshore technology solutions company, with 4,000+ professionals in more than 50 countries, representing the top 1% of tech talent. The company's goal is to create lasting value throughout the entire digital transformation journey.

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