Craig S. Mullins

Return to Home Page

November 2000


News From the Front
The Database Wars Escalate

by Craig S. Mullins

There were numerous battles in the database wars during August and September 2000. Each of the major players was involved in skirmishes and attacks. Let’s take a quick look at the recent events of the database wars. Our overview will include the regular players IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, as well as a brief look at what is happening at Informix.

A Big Blue Set of Tools?

IBM was very busy during the month of September, primarily announcing their entry into the database tools market. Well, entry is probably the wrong word to use here. IBM has offered database tools for DB2 for a while now. But those offerings have been limited in number. The interesting thing about this is that IBM is telling their customers that by selling them additional management tools they will reduce the customer’s TCO for DB2. This is hard to believe. First of all, they are going to start charging for base utilities like LOAD and REORG that were previously free. Secondly, they are going to begin selling tools that compete with products from ISVs like BMC Software and Computer Associates. At least initially though, IBM will not have replacement technology for all of the ISV offerings. IBM’s approach is to charge less than the ISVs for similar technology. But will a cheaper product that does less actually reduce TCO? Probably not.

And the replacement technology IBM is offering is likely to be quite inferior from a functionality view to the ISV offerings. So, thinking logically for a minute, wouldn’t reduced functionality translate into a higher TCO as IBM’s customers need to manually replace the functionality gap between the IBM offerings and the ISV offerings? Clearly IBM has some challenges ahead of them in the database tools market.

On the Redwood Shores Front

Oracle is stepping up their support for the mainframe. In late September Oracle announced the imminent availability of Oracle8i on OS/390. This is an interesting tactic. Oracle is basically turning the tables on IBM. The past few years IBM has been moving more and more into Oracle’s turf: namely Unix and Windows NT systems. With DB2 UDB IBM has a high quality, high performance competitor to Oracle that is gaining momentum.

Now Oracle moves to support OS/390, on which IBM’s DB2 is firmly entrenched as the market and technology leader. But didn’t Oracle support the mainframe already? Oh, yes, but now they are announcing more robust support.

Of course, IBM and Oracle are squabbling about what exactly is innovative and new about Oracle on OS/390. That is predictable, because recently IBM and Oracle have been squabbling about everything from feature functionality to performance benchmarks. Truth be told, Oracle’s announcement looks mostly like marketing to me. The steps Oracle is taking to better support OS/390 are required if they desire to keep their current mainframe customers, let alone garner new customers.

Even with the stepped-up support and marketing Oracle will rarely displace DB2 on the mainframe. But, if Oracle can convince their customers who have a large investment in Oracle on Unix, to deploy mainframe applications on Oracle instead of DB2, then they may be able to gain and hold an OS/390 footprint (where Oracle has been heretofore minimally deployed). And any business Oracle can take away from IBM on the mainframe (IBM’s turf) is gravy.

Another interesting tidbit on the Oracle front is the announcement of Oracle9i at the Oracle OpenWorld conference at the beginning of October. The primary new feature of Oracle9i is functionality that better enables ASPs and B2B exchanges to manage applications and data using Oracle. Other features include XML support and the usual performance improvement claims all vendors make when they announce a new version of their product. We’ll see what really gets delivered, and when. 

And on the Northwest Front . . .

The biggest news for Microsoft in September was the refusal of the Supreme Court to hear the appeal on the Microsoft antitrust ruling that would split the company in two. This is good news for Microsoft because the lower appeals court has ruled favorably for Microsoft before. And this stretches the appeals case out longer—and the longer the appeal process the better the chance that the market will have shifted significantly thereby rendering the original decision moot. An interesting sidelight to this case is that on September 29, 2000, the Washington Post reported that “the federal judge who ordered Microsoft split in two said that virtually everything he did in the antitrust case may be vulnerable on appeal.”

But what about SQL Server? On September 26th Microsoft held their Enterprise Server Launch Event at which they launched not only SQL Server 2000, but also BizTalk Server 2000, Application Center 2000, Exchange Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000, and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. So SQL Server 2000 is now generally available and Microsoft has a lot of new servers to promote and sell.

What About the Other Guys?

Even though IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft are the current market leaders for RDBMS servers, another player is making some news in the database wars. Informix, once heralded as the technology leader, still has some pretty good technology. They just seem to have a hard time figuring out what to do with it all.

In September Informix decided to split into two independent companies: one concentrating on DBMS software and the other focusing on e-business and Internet solutions. Kind of ironic that Informix is doing of their own volition what Microsoft wants to avoid, isn’t it? The good news for Informix is that this provides them with an opportunity to more clearly focus on their core competency: high performance database technology.

Other news on the Informix front isn’t so good. In August they announced a staff reduction of about 500 jobs. And then in September Informix readjusted earnings projections stating that they expect to post a loss in the third quarter ranging from 5 to 8 cents a share. Oh, yeah, the Chairman, Robert Finocchio, resigned, too.


All is not quiet on the database front. There are a lot of complicated projects being tackled by businesses that require database management technology. And therefore, there is a lot of revenue still to be harvested by the major RDBMS vendors. And there is a lot to keep track of as you decide which DBMS to use for each new project. Keep watching this space in Database Trends for the status of the Database Wars!




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