Aging Challenger: SQL 2000 Will Be 4 When Yukon Ships

Judging by market share alone, you probably wouldn’t know that Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000 database has just celebrated its third birthday.

According to researchers at Gartner and IDC, SQL Server last year grew its share of the enterprise relational database management system (RDBMS) market by a substantial margin, even as rivals IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. posted only modest -- or, in the case of Oracle -- negative growth, and even though the overall RDBMS market went into a tailspin.

What’s more, the aging SQL 2000 Server database has consistently grown its share even though Oracle has twice revamped its 9i RDBMS and IBM last year released another rev of DB2.

Put simply, Microsoft’s flagship database is the Andre Agassi of the RDBMS world, wracking up tournament victories and Slams -- er, notching impressive market share growth and becoming increasingly dominant in small-to-medium enterprise environments -- as it grows ever longer in the tooth.

For its sake, Microsoft had better hope that this is a trend that will continue. After all, the successor to SQL Server, which Microsoft has code-named “Yukon,” isn’t slated to be available in beta until early next year, with RTM slated for late 2004. By then, SQL Server 2000 will be four years old. Oracle will already have released its next-generation 10i database, and IBM will probably have shipped another revision of DB2. Can SQL Server continue to serve and volley with the big boys without dropping off its game?

Bread and butter market

Gartner and IDC rarely agree on much, especially when tabulating RDBMS market share figures. For example, a mini-fracas erupted earlier this year when Gartner concluded that Oracle had ceded its RDBMS market share crown to IBM in 2002 -- just two months after IDC published a report which concluded that the opposite was true.

One thing that both research rivals do agree on is the healthy growth of SQL Server 2000, however. IDC found that Microsoft’s database recorded 2.6 percent growth during 2002 -- at a time when the overall RDBMS market grew by just .7 percent. Gartner, for its part, says that SQL Server notched 3.7 percent growth during 2002, even as the overall RDBMS market plunged by 6.9 percent.

What’s to account for SQL Server’s success during this period? Shouldn’t its market share have started to slough off as its age caught up to it and potential customers opted instead for newer, sexier RDBMSes from IBM, Oracle, Sybase and others? Not exactly, analysts say.

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Microsoft’s market to lose

IDC’s Carl Olofson, for one, has noted that SQL Server’s strong growth is driven almost exclusively by its dominance in small-to-medium enterprise environments. Because of this, some analysts say that SQL Server has a kind of built-in market in small-to-medium enterprises, as well as in large enterprise shops where it’s often tapped for many departmental-level deployments.

“Its base has been more toward the workgroup and department level, and although it’s been steadily moving upward, if you talk about cases such as large-scale data warehouses, that’s not where most users are using it,” says Wayne Kernochan, managing vice president of software infrastructure with consultancy Aberdeen Group. “In many cases, [SQL Server is] not exactly being used for a lot of the same tasks as an IBM or Oracle. But you’ll find it entrenched in workgroups or at the departmental level.”

Adds Sanju Bansal, chief operating officer of business intelligence (BI) powerhouse MicroStrategy: “I can imagine that SQL Server is quite useful for departmental-level applications, but our customer base tends to be the folks that have taken their data relatively seriously. They tend to think about enterprise business intelligence instead of departmental level stuff.” As a result, Bansal explains, more than half of MicroStrategy’s customers use Oracle databases, while the rest use IBM, Teradata, and, lastly, Microsoft. “SQL Server might be 5 percent to 10 percent max, but that’s a function of the market that we serve,” he says.

Kernochan and other industry watchers say that by and large SQL Server is still tapped to support the same workgroup and departmental-level applications that it’s always been used with. In this regard, says Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc., the issue of its advancing age isn’t really a problem at all.

“There’s kind of two segments to the market, one in which Oracle and IBM are very well represented, and that’s where Microsoft will say that it’s competitive, and one sort of lower end, which actually has done better than the large enterprise market for databases over the last two or three years. That’s where SQL Server has had a lot of its success,” Schiff speculates.

One reason that SQL Server is so popular in the small-to-medium enterprise is because it’s so cheap: It’s less expensive than DB2 and it’s a fraction of the price of Oracle, the so-called “Cadillac” of RDBMSes. According to Aberdeen’s Kernochan, however, customers don’t simply buy SQL Server because it’s cheap. After all, he points out, there are other, cheaper databases around, such as the Open Source MySQL RDBMS. “By now, it’s less the price/performance and more the fact that Microsoft itself is firmly embedded in that space, so I think that if it were just price/performance, we’d be seeing major inroads from the open source databases in that area,” he argues.

Current Analysis’ Schiff says that the reason Microsoft is so firmly embedded in the small-to-medium enterprise space -- and one of the reasons why SQL Server 2000 has had more success than any of its predecessors in scaling up the enterprise food chain -- is that it’s a solid database that’s supported by a hugely popular development environment, Microsoft’s Visual Studio, and which touts integration with a wildly popular office productivity suite, Microsoft Office. It’s a lock-in which makes SQL Server 2000 ideally suited for supporting workgroup- and departmental-level applications.

It’s that lock-in, Schiff says, that should ensure consistent uptake of the database until Microsoft finally ships Yukon late next year, come hell or Oracle 10i.

Not your laid-off former boss’s manager’s SQL Server 2000

If you’re supporting SQL Server 2000 today, chances are that you’re not still running the original code. After all, says Tom Rizzo, group product manager for SQL Server, Microsoft has introduced a variety of service pack updates, feature or function add-ons, and enhanced development tools since it first shipped SQL Server 2000 three years ago. “The truth is that we’re enhancing it regularly,” he asserts. “We just released [service pack] 3 of SQL Server 2000 three months ago, and we introduced a Web services toolkit right with the first version of Visual Studio .NET. We’ve also added things like Analysis Services [for online-analytical processing] and ETL [Data Transformation Services, and we’re about to release [Enterprise] Reporting Services.”

With many of these updates, Rizzo says, Microsoft has concentrated on improving the usability and reliability of the database. “One of the key things we’ve [introduced for SQL Server] is Dr. Watson .NET, which you’ve probably seen if you’ve ever had [Internet Explorer] crash and report that back to Microsoft,” he says. “We incorporated that into SQL Server, and it’s helped us to track down some of the nastiest, most esoteric bugs.”

Microsoft also ratcheted up SQL Server’s scalability when it released a 64-bit version of the database this year. Windows-powered systems running 64-bit SQL Server 2000 have notched record scores on many industry benchmarks, such as the TPC-C, Rizzo says. “For customers that need more scalability than 32-bit SQL Server, there’s now 64-bit SQL Server,” he points out.

And lest customers be apprehensive that SQL Server is in danger of running out of gas before Yukon finally ships, Rizzo argues that its codebase was designed for longevity. “We re-architected SQL Server back in the 7.0 timeframe to be a 20-year code base, so that we could live on the code base that we have for 20 years,” he says. “I don’t think you’ll see us running out of steam any time soon with the 2000 code base, and we have a lot of customers that have told us that they’re willing to wait for Yukon.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.


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