IBM, Microsoft databases inch toward each other

IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are making database waves this week and flowing toward each other’s established terrains.

Big Blue on Thursday made DB2 8.1 generally available, while Microsoft touted forthcoming versions of its SQL Server database.

With this latest version of DB2, IBM is trying to make the database easier to use, deploy, and administer in order to better compete off of the mainframe with Oracle and Microsoft. IBM is the dominant database vendor on mainframe systems, but Oracle leads in the Unix space, according to Mike Schiff, vice-president of business intelligence (BI) and e-business at Current Analysis, in Sterling, Va.

“Classically, IBM has the reputation of requiring a high priesthood to keep DB2 running, while Microsoft is much easier and Oracle skills are in high demand,” Schiff said. “IBM is taking on Oracle. They are putting in features to make it easier to use.”

Indeed, IBM officials said ease of use is one of their primary concerns.

“Part of what we are trying to do is change that view [of DB2 being harder to use], both with Oracle and Microsoft,” said Paul Rivot, director of database servers and BI, for Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM.

Rivot said that new features in DB2 8.1 that increase ease of use include enhanced query performance, multidimensional clustering, and autonomic capabilities.

Microsoft, meanwhile, this week foreshadowed a forthcoming 64-bit edition of SQL Server that it hopes will help it convince users of the database’s viability on the high end. Microsoft’s goal is to make Windows the dominant platform for databases, officials said Wednesday at the company’s user group, held in Seattle.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft released a beta of the future version of its 64-bit database, code-named Liberty, planned for release in April 2003. Liberty will run on Itanium 2 processors. The company also provided further details for its much evangelized next-generation database, code-named Yukon. Yukon, due in the first half of next year, will be available in both 32- and 64-bit versions, and will support Web services as well as XML.

Oracle, for its part, used its OracleWorld user conference in San Francisco last month to detail its next database, loosely dubbed 10i and slated to ship sometime in mid-2003. Although the final name has not been determined, Oracle officials said the new version will focus on manageability, increased capacity, and spreading its clustering technology to new platforms, and will include grid computing features. 10i also will add new support for XML and Web services, Oracle said.

IBM moving forward will continue to increase XML and Web services within DB2 as well, Rivot said.

“XML looks like the next big thing in databases, but it will become just another feature in relational databases,” Schiff said.