Perception over Reality

A recent article in Infoconomy wonders whether SQL Server 2005 will be “enterprise scale”. Wake up call – it already is. It is intriguing that analysts and journalists continue to perpetuate the myth that SQL Server is somehow a departmental solution, not really up to serious usage. This is nonsense; even in 1997, when working at Shell, I led a piece of research cost of ownership of database platforms and was not surprised to find that the DBA facilities of SQL Server were much easier to use than those of Oracle. What I was surprised to discover was just how large some SQL Server implementations were. Of course SQL Server was originally based on the Sybase code base, which to this day runs many of the systems at giant financial institutions, but somehow the myth of “departmental” had stuck in my mind. Recently one of our customers has been looking seriously at switching from Oracle to SQL Server and has tried running some of its largest applications on it. A trial of a multi terabyte Kalido data warehouse, for example, showed that SQL server was slightly slower on some things and faster on others, but broadly speaking there was no performance disadvantage to Oracle. SAP runs happily on SQL Server, so why does the myth persist?

I think it comes down to marketing dollars. Microsoft does not market SQL Server heavily to the enterprise, and spends less money with analyst firms than one might expect. By contrast Oracle and IBM are marketing machines who constantly stress how powerful their databases are. Hence a marketing perception, unchallenged, becomes perceived wisdom. Microsoft is missing a trick here, as Oracle behaves very aggressively to its customers and will not win many popularity polls amongst its large corporate customers. Some would be very tempted to switch to an alternative supplier, and while switching costs would be huge, part of the reason for the inertia is this perception of SQL Server as a departmental database. Given that IBM was outmarketed by Oracle when DB2 had a clear technical lead, it would be a shame to not see Microsoft put up more of a fight in this arena – competition is good for everyone except monopolistic vendors.