AiThority Interview with Oleg Bartunov, Co-founder and CEO at Postgres Professional
Please tell us about your role and the team/technology you handle at Postgres Professional. How did you arrive at Postgres Professional?
I am the co-founder and CEO of Postgres Professional, where I lead the company’s overall strategic direction. Postgres Professional makes PostgreSQL enterprise-ready by adding features and providing expert services. Currently, we are one of the leading vendors contributing to PostgreSQL. We are the major developers of full-text search, JSONB, GiST, SP-GiST and GIN indexes. We also make a significant contribution to B-Tree indexes and many other PostgreSQL features. We also develop Postgres Pro DBMS, which is our own variant of Postgres targeted for large enterprises. Postgres Pro DBMS is enriched with data compression, enhanced statistics, improved query planning and table partitioning, 64-bit transaction counter, fast incremental backup, etc. We are working on improving read and write scalability by sharding and advanced replication. The company sells its expertise in Postgres to large market players not specializing in databases – online retailers, industrial giants and financial institutions. Such customers demand fixed-time service conditions, and we often provide them. We can even commit to fixing Postgres bugs or suggesting workaround solutions for them within a certain timeframe stipulated in our SLA, which makes us unique in this market. Focusing on the needs of large enterprises, we enhance Postgres with custom features to meet their requirements. We are also very active in the PostgreSQL community.
Since its formation in 2015, Postgres Professional has been an influencer of the PostgreSQL ecosystem, this is where we belong and would like to stay. Back in 2015, we gathered a great team led by two PostgreSQL major contributors, Teodor Sigaev and myself. We reached out to tens of other contributors and software developers working or willing to work on Postgres. We hired the best talent in the local market and started our business leveraging the “open source plus professional services & custom development” model.
In its early years, the PostgreSQL community was developer-driven. Now it is vendor-driven. It means that now most of the people behind PostgreSQL represent not only themselves but also various vendor companies, contributing to this DBMS. We are a part of this small but highly respected circle of top PostgreSQL vendors. We make many of our developments, initially intended for customers, available to the entire PostgreSQL community. Everyone can use our multi-master and sharding solutions; we maintain popular open source extensions like pg_probackup and pg_profile.
Not all contributions immediately go to the community-developed version of PostgreSQL because something might not be needed or supported there yet. Some of the advanced features we develop become a part of Postgres Pro DBMS, our own fork of PostgreSQL with a number of enhancements ensuring high performance, high availability, and better security for large systems. For example, a helpful feature such as B-Tree index deduplication became available in Postgres Pro Enterprise 11 but did reach the open source PostgreSQL version until version 13.
For the entire PostgreSQL community, there are four main challenges, and we need to cope with them in the next few years:
- We need to make PostgreSQL enterprise-ready. Postgres is becoming more and more popular, which means that the number of requests from various types of businesses is increasing.
- We need to go cloud-native, ensuring that all advantages of PostgreSQL can be successfully used in the cloud.
- We need to support new architectures and new technologies existing in the world, such as RDMA networks, NVME (non-volatile memory), and we need to leverage AI/ML to make databases more autonomous and flexible.
- We need to address issues related to Postgres maturity. Previously, a smaller Postgres user community consisted of highly skilled core developers with expert-level backgrounds. Now PostgreSQL is everywhere — it has become a first-choice technology, but this means that we need to support various hosting scenarios and clouds and provide integrations with what Postgres users need most. We have a large flow of users with zero background in databases, so we need to educate them, simplify things for them and work on PostgreSQL ease of use. With everyone becoming a Postgres user, you need to keep everyone included.
PostgreSQL has entered a market that previously belonged to IT giants like Oracle and Microsoft. We need to offer many things enterprise customers have become accustomed to while keeping PostgreSQL open and independent. This is challenging, with many companies not giving back to the PostgreSQL community. Some cloud vendors just start offering Postgres to their users (the open source license of this DBMS allows it), and they don’t invest at all in technology.
We do our best to give back to the extent we can. We contribute around a hundred patches to the upstream PostgreSQL every year. Actually, Postgres Professional helped PostgreSQL gain popularity. When NoSQL databases were booming, we decided to extend the NoSQL features in Postgres, which we introduced in early 2000 as the hstore extension.
We introduced JSONB, and the Postgres adoption rates increased. Other RDBMS communities have also started to work on JSON data type support; JSON was included in the SQL standard after the Postgres case. We have attracted new users and need to retain them by making JSONB even better.
According to TimeScaleDB’s State of Postgres survey results, the top 3 features used to organize and access data in production apps are JSONB, event triggers, and Non-B-Tree indexes. 72% use them in production environments, which is a great win for us, as we work on both JSONB and Non-B-tree index access methods. What we do here at Postgres Professional is in high demand. As I scan various Postgres communities, I see JSON in Postgres as one of the hottest topics. We also see many users interested in scalability improvements, so we’ll work more on the sharding capabilities of PostgreSQL.
Could you tell us how the PostgreSQL domain evolved in the last 2-3 years? What impact did the pandemic have on the domain?
PostgreSQL is now perceived by many as the first-choice open source database solution. It’s one of the top 4 RDMSs in the world. Executives of large corporations rely on it, be it IKEA, GitLab, or other market leaders. Why? The PostgreSQL open source license allows companies to modify and use it freely in various commercial products. There’s no one vendor company behind Postgres, which means it will grow and thrive thanks to community contributions.
Last year, we witnessed IKEA making its announcement about Postgres usage. MasterCard is also using Postgres, and this list looks endless. We can speak about companies standardizing on PostgreSQL as this means lower TCO without vendor lock-in. Banking and finance organizations switch to Postgres to optimize costs, and we help them during the transition periods with our consultants supporting their IT teams while mastering Postgres.
The pandemic made people use the Internet more than ever, so the open source database market demonstrated growth. We’re serving the companies operating online, and they had to cope with traffic surges and scale their businesses. Many of our customers developed new services fast to engage with their users in multiple ways. We were one of the powers behind this global change. That was a time of hard work, but we helped our customers to make it through the pandemic challenges and succeed. When you tune and optimize what’s in high demand, this leads to prosperity.
How did PostgreSQL utilize the remote workplace scenario to assist the IT services industry?
We at Postgres Pro had quite a number of people who preferred office work. However, we also had a positive experience with our remote staff from distant locations. If our customers asked us for advice on security or solutions for remote work, we were able to share our expertise. In 2020, some of our customers faced growth and scalability challenges in the new reality, so we helped them to tune and customize Postgres to handle the changing workloads. We proved to be a reliable partner for our clients when they needed us most. Staying responsive during challenging times is key.
Tell us more about Postgres Pro Enterprise Database 13 and how it integrates with Microsoft Azure.
Postgres Pro Enterprise is a private, fully supported PostgreSQL fork targeted for very large production systems of major financial institutions, industrial giants, and top online retailers, including those deployed on Microsoft Azure. It includes functionality designed to meet the strictest requirements for security, scalability, and high availability.
Based on PostgreSQL 13, Postgres Pro Enterprise 13 includes all the new features introduced in PostgreSQL 13, as well as key Postgres Professional innovations, such as hot minor upgrades, storage-level compression, and 64-bit transaction identifiers.
Enhanced features of Postgres Pro Enterprise include:
- Data compression at the database block level to minimize the data footprint and increase performance.
- Incremental backup with consistency checks for increased data protection and simplicity, even with terabytes of data.
- Advanced built-in task scheduler for delayed, scheduled, or asynchronous execution of offline jobs.
- ML-based adaptive query planning for increased adaptability to particular information structures and data value distribution.
- Effective table partitioning for 1000+ partitions for simpler management and faster processing of large volumes of data in a single database.
Key new features of Postgres Pro Enterprise 13 available to Microsoft Azure users include:
- Hot upgrades for minor releases – Online upgrade for minor version releases has been implemented, allowing an upgrade to the next minor version without a server restart or interrupting the existing client connections. This is currently supported on Linux platforms.
- More transparent and manageable Write-Ahead Log (WAL) – A new WAL view (pgpro_stat_wal_activity) shows the size of WAL generated by each server process.
- Improved compressed file system – Support for the lz4 compression library has been added to the compressed file system.
Postgres Pro Enterprise 13, along with previous versions, is available in the Microsoft Azure Marketplace as a virtual machine (VM) offering.
Where is the Azure Marketplace ecosystem heading to in 2021?
Here we certainly need to mention that Microsoft has become the number one cloud vendor in terms of revenue generation; even Amazon comes second.
As cloud infrastructure and related services are in high demand, Microsoft enters new markets faster and offers more services compared to their core competitors: AWS & GCP. Azure provides more products and services, including ML, AI, and IoT related, striving to remain the trendsetter of this market.
Azure users can also benefit from the advanced AppSource marketplace for ready-made applications:
Azure has recently worked a lot on its security requirements as many enterprise customers have started to use cloud infrastructure. For them, security is a top concern to have in mind before embracing the cloud.
Azure also looks ready for the changing world where people without extensive tech backgrounds start using cloud services. Microsoft invests considerable effort in making their technology more user-friendly and accessible for everyone.
What kind of specialized competencies should professionals focus on to develop careers in this domain?
To become a highly qualified tech professional specializing in Azure, you need to pay attention to Microsoft’s certifications, like Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect, Azure Data Engineer, DevOps Engineer, Azure Security Engineer, and Azure Developer. The skills and knowledge listed in these programs cover the entire process from software development to implementation and maintenance of complex cloud infrastructures. As I have already said, Microsoft Azure has a strong focus on security, which means that knowledge and skills related to this platform are in high demand. For example, a relatively new ‘DevSecOps’ specialization is trending in today’s IT world.
Hear it from the pro: What are the biggest trends in IT hardware that every business professional should watch out for in 2021-2022?
It would be great if business-minded people started tracking how the Internet is changing thanks to the evolution of the technologies behind it. We’re witnessing how fast RDMA networks and non-volatile memory (NVME) are becoming a part of today’s reality. The definitions of ‘disk’ and ‘memory’ are becoming vague now. HDDs were replaced by SSDs very fast, and we are in for more changes. I strongly believe in the future of quantum computing, but I don’t expect such computers to become a commodity in the next few years.
Tell us more about the hiring challenges when it comes to technology companies? What advice do you have for the industry leaders?
Our industry has a high entry level. Software engineers skilled enough to work on open source databases like Postgres are in high demand. We faced a talent shortage very fast, so we decided to grow experts inside the company. We simply don’t see enough systems developers on the market, so we do educational activities, launch courses, host free community events, and help people to get certified and pursue PostgreSQL careers. This helps us to connect to tech professionals willing to become a part of our team. Of course, we also collaborate with universities and provide educational materials that comply with our internal standards. We also do a lot for the community to remain the point of attraction for PostgreSQL contributors in our key regions of interest (Europe, Russia, Asia).
After 2020, remote employment is common for all tech companies. With remote employees, you cannot be 100% sure that competitors don’t talk to them. You cannot be sure how your staff members feel about working in your company right now. This means that you need to talk to people more often and create more reasons for them to stay. For example, you may need to rethink your benefits, revise your job descriptions, ask people about what they would like to do, and embrace in-company transfers.
Thank you, Oleg! That was fun and we hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
Oleg Bartunov is the co-founder and CEO of Postgres Professional, the company that makes PostgreSQL enterprise-ready. A major contributor to PostgreSQL, Bartunov has been using PostgreSQL since 1995 and has been developing and promoting PostgreSQL since 1996. His PostgreSQL contributions include the locale support, GiST, GIN and SP-GiST extensibility infrastructures, full-text search, KNN, NoSQL features (hstore and jsonb) and several extensions including fuzzy search, support for tree-like structures and arrays. In addition to his work with Postgres Professional, Bartunov is a research scientist at Lomonosov Moscow State University and a professional astronomer.
Postgres Professional specializes in database development, 24×7 support, and expert consulting services for PostgreSQL. The company contributes to the open-source PostgreSQL project and offers its own Postgres Pro DBMS, a private, fully supported version of PostgreSQL that provides early access to new PostgreSQL features and optimizations, including security enhancements and performance improvements. Postgres Professional assists with data migrations, conducts PostgreSQL training, and helps developers and DBAs get certified for PostgreSQL careers. For more information or to download Postgres Pro DBMS, visit https://postgrespro.com/.