SQL takes on database kingpins

The high-end enterprise database market is often viewed as a two-horse race, with Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp. seemingly the only two contenders, together cornering almost two-thirds of the market. Now Microsoft Corp. is positioning itself to join ranks with the aforementioned powerhouses.

At a recent Professional Association for SQL Server Summit conference in Seattle, a Microsoft spokesperson said the company, with its upcoming Yukon and 64-bit Liberty variants of SQL Server database, is looking to oust Unix as the platform of choice for the enterprise.

Gordon Mangione, corporate vice-president of the Microsoft SQL Server team, said SQL Server on Windows will surpass proprietary Unix servers on a single machine. “The investments we are making in this space, we are absolutely committed to.” That means running databases with terabytes of information, he said.

But attempts to gather steam in the enterprise market is going to be tough, as the company has to deal with a variety of perception issues and a notoriously loyal database clientele.

Dave Cokack, president and CEO of Concord, Ont.-based iSTARK Corp., was looking for a database to run his company. iSTARK is an application service provider that delivers a software solution to the cement and concrete industry. His choice came down to Microsoft and Oracle, and Oracle won out. “You try to do it on merit,” he said. Though there was a slight edge to Oracle for scalability and reliability, there was another factor which played an even more important role. “To be honest with you it was more [that] Oracle has been in the business longer.”

“You go with what you feel comfortable with.”

This need for “comfort” may be the biggest issue facing Microsoft. In a market long dominated by the two giants, companies may not be willing to take a look at a relative newcomer to run systems often viewed as mission critical.

Darren Massel, product manager for SQL Server with Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., admits the company is going to have to prove itself to the enterprise customer. But as an initial wedge into the market, Microsoft is going after the wallet. “A compelling reason…for some of these companies is coming down to total cost of ownership,” Massel said. TCO is really back with a vengeance and that is where SQL Server excels, he said.

“We can deliver at the enterprise level…but we do it with the top price performance.”

Chris Pentleton doesn’t entirely agree with Massel. “I could certainly pretty much categorically tell you that there is no way in hell we would use it (SQL Server) for our enterprise,” said the chief architect of the e-COPS (enterprise case and occurrence processing system) project, and a consultant for the Toronto Police Services in Toronto.

It is not concerns over security or reliability per se (two common complaints with the Windows operating system) that would take Microsoft out of the running, it is more the company and the way it does business, he explained.

“Microsoft to me is a commodities kind of player.” He is uncertain he could count on them for the level of service his systems require.

“We are running mission-critical databases and we need to be able to call up a vendor (on a moment’s notice) for help,” he said.

You get that from the Oracles and the IBMs of the world, you don’t get that from the Microsofts, he said.

Pentleton said the Toronto Police Services is almost finished moving from Oracle to IBM databases. “Basically it came right down to the price. It was a night and day difference,” he said. The majority of the IBM DB2 databases are running on IBM’s AIX Unix-based servers.

Cokack, who has been running Oracle9i for two years, is also very pleased with his databases. “In the course of two years we have had only one incident with Oracle and it was very minor, [which] was not customer impacting. It has lived up to its promise,” he said.

Microsoft may initially find success with companies that want to run all of their systems on the Intel platform with a consistent operating environment. Keith Gardiner, manager of information technology with Chevron Canada Ltd. in Vancouver, runs a SQL Server database on an Intel box. The company recently converted its last Oracle database over to SQL Server. It has been a conscious decision to bring everything under the Microsoft umbrella, he said.

“It has made the management issue easier. We can get by with fewer people.”

– With files from IDG News Service