Sony Online Entertainment is to replace some Oracle databases with software from EnterpriseDB in a vote of confidence for the open-source company. Sony is the company's biggest customer win to date.

Sony Online operates an online gaming network for "hundreds of thousands" of subscribers. It will use EnterpriseDB initially for back-office applications, such as customer billing systems, and eventually for front-end systems that run its gaming service, said Rick Herman, Sony Online vice president, business and legal affairs.

EnterpriseDB's software will replace some databases from Oracle, Sony Online's main supplier today, Herman said. The company decided to switch primarily to reduce its software licensing costs, and picked EnterpriseDB because it offers Oracle compatibility, making it easier to migrate applications, Herman said.

"As we add more features and support services the data problem we've got just gets bigger," he said. "Our needs and costs were scaling in parallel and it became clear we had to start thinking along the lines of an alternative solution."

He wouldn't say how many database servers will be switched or talk about the company's storage needs in detail. Sony Online committed to buying "a very large number of [EnterpriseDB] database licences up front, and to follow on with another extremely large number at a later time," he said.

The migration has only just started and Sony Online will continue to use Oracle software "for the foreseeable future," according to Herman. "What we're hoping is, as our needs scale we'll implement more and more of the EnterpriseDB stuff we purchased."

The company liked the ability to buy EnterpriseDB's software "in a more targeted way," he said. "If you look at some of the big existing players, you're buying bundled products that have a lot of software you may or may not need, but that you pay for anyway."

He declined to say how much Sony Online expects to save in licence fees, saying only that it is "a substantial amount of money."

In a further endorsement, Sony Online has also invested an undisclosed sum in EnterpriseDB, joining a round of funding that included US$7 million from two venture capital companies, Charles River Ventures and Valhalla Partners
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Oracle's database has a list price of $40,000 per processor for the Enterprise Edition. EnterpriseDB charges an annual subscription of $5,000 for its database with the top-end Platinum support package. Oracle recently launched a free version of its database that carries usage restrictions.

Sony Online was concerned initially about EnterpriseDB support services. It eventually decided its support network, which includes offices in the U.S. and Asia, and one to open soon in the U.K., was sufficient.

Sony Online considered MySQL, the most popular open-source database, but liked EnterpriseDB's Oracle compatibility, Herman said.

Open-source still gives IT executives "heartburn" but has evolved a lot in recent years, he said. "If you'd told me five years ago we'd be looking at open source I'd have said you were insane," he said.

Andy Astor, EnterpriseDB's chief executive, said the deal might prompt other Fortune 500 companies to use his company's software, which is based on the open-source PostgreSQL database.

"I think it's going to send a message to the other Fortune 499," Astor said.

Oracle spokespeople declined to comment for this article.