A recent analyst report on the relational database market puts Oracle in pole position, though Microsoft will quickly gain ground as customers become more confident about its software and seek new ways to reduce their IT budgets, according to the report's author.
Published this month by Meta Group, the report examines the four top database vendors against a dozen criteria. Oracle9i came out on top in most areas including technology, services and execution, putting it in Meta Group's "leader" category. IBM's UDB 7.2 and Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 were ranked "challengers", while Sybase's ASE 12.5 was deemed a "follower".
But change is in the air, according to Meta. Customers are looking to cut costs by using servers based on Intel processors, which tend to be less expensive than the RISC-based machines most often used to run large databases. This will benefit Microsoft, whose latest operating system is proving to be surprisingly reliable and scalable, said Charlie Garry, a Meta Group senior program director and the report's author.
The emergence of Microsoft's .Net technology as a rival to Java for building Internet-based applications should also help it to win new customers for SQL Server, Garry said. Developers who choose .Net could probably use an Oracle or IBM database to deploy their applications, but many will choose SQL Server in the hope of finding greater compatibilities, he said.
Also helping Microsoft is the emergence of what Meta Group terms "undifferentiated competency" among databases. While Oracle and IBM are seen as database technology leaders, all of the top vendors' products these days are considered "good enough" for handling most types of corporate tasks, according to Garry.
"Commoditisation is too strong a term, but for the majority of applications, users in general believe they'd be just as well off on any of the three [Oracle, IBM and Microsoft]," he said. "The bottom line is, watch out for Microsoft; we believe they are Oracle's biggest threat."
While Oracle scored highly on most counts, it scored poorly in some areas. In terms of pricing it ranked last -- the company has been forced to address recent confusion over pricing for its 11i E-Business Suite, and its sales teams have been accused by analysts of overselling software and duping customers into spending more than they need. Oracle also has a reputation among customers and its ISV (independent software vendor) partners as being too aggressive, according to Garry. "Everybody from the ISV side says they're a pain in the ass to work with," he said.
Such issues will hurt Oracle moving forward, he predicted. As differences in technology become less apparent, customers will choose their vendor based on how easy they are to do business with. "The light has come on" at Oracle and it is trying to clean up its image, but "some customers are so angry at Oracle they're just looking for a reason to switch", he said.