Craig S. Mullins
Database Performance Management

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June 2000


An Update on the Database Wars
by Craig S. Mullins

The Big Three DBMS vendors continue to fight the database wars. With new features, claims, benchmarks, ad campaigns, and product announcements, Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft continue to vie for the leadership position in the relational database management marketplace.

Let’s take a look at recent events surrounding each of these DBMS vendors.

DB2 Continues to Gain Ground

The first quarter of 2000 was a good one for IBM’s data management software products. Sales of DB2 UDB on Unix and Windows NT platforms rose 66 percent over the same period in 1999.

But sound financial results were not the only good news out of IBM. They announced another new release of DB2, namely Version 7. The marketing spin was distinctly e-business focused. IBM claims that DB2 UDB Version 7 will make it simpler for dot.coms and large corporations conducting business-to-business (B2B) on the Web to gain competitive insight about their customers, slash application deployment time in many cases by nearly half and perform high-speed Internet searches as much as ten times faster than traditional relational database search engines. I guess we need to wait for the next version of DB2 to fight crimes and leap tall buildings in a single bound.

The reality, embedded somewhere in all the hype, is that DB2 V7 provides some good features to help both traditional business and e-business alike. Some of the more interesting new features include:

  • Integrated, in-memory relational database technology designed to speed up text searches for Web applications. This is significant because other companies have built a business model selling standalone in-memory databases. (examples include TimesTen Performance Systems and Anagra Database Systems).
  • The ability to integrate XML for data interchange in support of B2B applications. With this new function, users can quickly and easily define, store and retrieve XML-based documents.
  • A Data Warehouse Manager that provides additional data warehousing, data analysis, and OLAP capabilities to simplify the deployment of business intelligence solutions. The OLAP features are based on the Hyperion Essbase product and are key to enabling IBM to keep up-to-date with the data warehousing features Microsoft bundles into SQL Server.
  • Support for the standard SQL Stored Procedure Language allowing users to develop DB2 stored procedures using SQL instead of 3GL programs.

The initial announcements however, were slanted toward the Windows, Unix, and OS/2 market. Details were sketchy for the OS/390 and AS/400 versions of DB2. IBM has since released more details on Version 7 of DB2 UDB for OS/390, available on its web site.

In other DB2 news, IBM has been forging strategic partnerships with major applications vendors such as SAP and Siebel. Both SAP, the biggest ERP application vendor and Siebel, the biggest CRM application vendor have endorsed IBM DB2 UDB as the DBMS of choice for their applications. This is not surprising because the largest installed DBMS for both applications is currently Oracle, and Oracle is threatening SAP and Siebel with its own suite of application products for ERP and CRM.

For IBM though, the bottom line is more features, better marketing, and continually increasing market share. Things appear to be proceeding to plan for IBM and DB2.

Other Than the DOJ, What’s up at Microsoft?

Microsoft announced the public beta of SQL Server 2000 in April. SQL Server 2000 provides a built-in data mining engine and new data mining algorithms. This new functionality makes it easier for users to perform predictions based on data stored in SQL Server databases. The new data mining capabilities build on the OLAP services Microsoft already bundles with SQL Server 7.

As always, Microsoft touts better scalability and speed for the new and improved SQL Server. But what else is new? The more interesting new features include:

  • XML support
  • four-node failover technology to provide better functionality for recovery
  • support for Windows 2000 Active Directory

The latter feature means that SQL Server 2000 will register itself automatically to Windows 2000 when it is installed.

During its Windows 2000 launch, Microsoft also announced that it was able to achieve record-breaking performance against the standard TPC-C performance benchmark. Microsoft claims to have achieved 200,000 transactions per minute at a price of about $19 per transaction using a "tweaked" beta version of SQL Server 2000. But the key word in the previous sentence is "tweaked." For example, Microsoft used COM+ for the transaction processing monitor instead of a more reliable TPM such as Tuxedo from BEA Systems. And it relies on products that are not yet generally available (not just SQL Server 2000, but also Windows 2000 Datacenter).

SQL Server 2000 is in early testing at a large number of customer sites and is scheduled to ship sometime in 2000. It will be interesting to see if the recent DOJ findings and government plan to split Microsoft into two companies will impact the SQL Server release cycle. It would be surprising, indeed, if the media circus surrounding these events did not distract Microsoft somewhat.

So Is Oracle Cool Again, or What?

And what is happening with the final member of the Big Three? Oracle has been the beneficiary of a substantial amount of good press during the past few months. Business Week ran a cover story on Oracle, complete with a photo of CEO Larry Ellison with the intriguing headline "Oracle is Cool Again." Now I am a fan of Oracle’s, but was Oracle really ever cool? The article is available on the web at

Another interesting side story emerged with the recent volatility of the stock market and the lower price of Microsoft’s share price. For a period of time the stock valuations of Microsoft and Oracle were such that Larry Ellison’s personal wealth had exceeded that of Bill Gates’. The LA Times covered the story; check it out at

Interesting news perhaps, but not particularly relevant for those of us concerned with database issues.

The bulk of the technology news coming out of Oracle is delivery on old promises. At the end of April, 2000, Oracle delivered the Internet File System, or iFS for short. The iFS replaces that operating system’s file system. A compelling feature of iFS is that it can be extended by developers using Java and XML. By storing e-mail or word processing data using Oracle and the iFS, developers can provide enhanced functionality for example, improved search capabilities or check-in/check-out capabilities with version control. The iFS, was originally due by the end of 1998, but was scheduled for general availability in May 2000.

Additionally, Oracle shipped its Raw Iron database appliance in April 2000. Oracle first introduced the concept of Raw Iron in late 1998 and early 1999. At that time Raw Iron was just a glimmer in Larry Ellison’s eye, but now it is reality. The Raw Iron database appliance is based on a modified version of Sun Solaris running on a Hewlett Packard server. But other hardware vendors including Compaq and Dell have agreed to support the Oracle database appliance. The purported benefit of the Oracle appliance is that it will incur less overhead and require less management because it does not have a traditional operating system and is designed to perform one thing—operating as a database server. Time will tell if the database appliance becomes more popular than the Network Computer, Oracle’s previous attempt at hardware that did not need Windows.

Other recent news from Oracle centers on software licensing and pricing. Oracle is revamping its pricing policies. One area is power unit pricing instead of user pricing. A power unit is based on the processing power of the processors running Oracle programs. This may be easier for some customers than Oracle’s traditional user-based pricing. This is especially so for web-enabled applications where the number of users is difficult, if not impossible to determine. Additionally, Oracle has introduced standard discounting practices based on total transaction value. And finally, prices for all Oracle products are available online at the Oracle store ( This is a significant move because most software vendors do not publish pricing lists on the web.

So Oracle is delivering on its promises for iFS and Raw Iron, while at the same time rationalizing its pricing policy and generating a lot of publicity—in other words, becoming "cool again." These are indeed auspicious times for Oracle.

The Bottom Line

For now and into the foreseeable future, there will be three leaders supplying DBMS products: IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. Oracle is the acknowledged market share leader on Unix platforms and is trying to become the leader on Windows platforms. But Microsoft has something to say about that. And IBM is the acknowledged market share leader on mainframe platforms, but is starting to make serious in-roads into the Unix and Windows marketplace. IBM also has a loyal customer base among its proprietary platforms (AS/400) and operating systems (OS/2). If you are making a DBMS purchasing decision today, it almost certainly should be to buy one of these three leaders. The fun part will be deciding which one.


From Database Trends, June 2000.
2000 Craig S. Mullins,  All rights reserved.