VARs: Cheap Databases? No Problem

Within the last month, Oracle and IBM started fielding free versions of their 10g and DB2 databases, respectively. Microsoft offers a free version of SQL Server 2005, which also carries the very popular Express moniker. And don't forget the open-source databases MySQL and PostgreSQL, which can be had for nothing or close to it.

But solution providers and vendors maintain that databases are too important to be relegated to the bargain bins.

"There's nothing free in life. [These free databases] give you some subset of overall functionality, but there's a lot of difference between Express and Enterprise editions of SQL Server," said George Brown, president of Database Solutions, a Cherry Hill, N.J., database specialist. "Express doesn't give you much more functionality than you got with Access in Office."

Yet Phil Mogavero, CEO of Data Systems Worldwide, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based solution provider, said he likes the trend.

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"Being a company that provides services leveraging database platforms, this will offer us a great opportunity--especially in small and medium-sized businesses--to move them to a new, resilient database platform from their old, perhaps non-4GL-type databases," Mogavero said. Data Systems Worldwide also can provide application development, managed services and a solution--hosted or not--that can be Web-centric but not expensive, he added.

Ambuj Goyal, general manager of Information Management at IBM Software, has a vested interest in this issue, and some thoughts on it. In an interview at IBM PartnerWorld in Las Vegas, he said there's a big market for volume-oriented and value-add databases.

IBM needed a high-volume database play, and that led to DB2 Express C, according to Goyal. IBM's heritage is in the enterprise, and the company needed a viable entry to combat Microsoft and Oracle in SMBs, he said. DB2 Express C provides a good way for IBM to reduce barriers to entry for small developers--or even database "newbies"--and for building a skills base that would be applicable to bigger-iron versions of DB2, he noted.

In some niches, databases are moving to the high-volume from the high-value model, where the software traditionally was "the most valuable thing," Goyal said. Still, databases remain the heart and soul of businesses.

"Look at what JC Penney announced last November. Their warehousing guy stood up and said that when someone walks to the point-of-sale kiosk and the store is out of stock on a red sweater, medium [size], the cashier can check and see immediately where that sweater is available within 5 miles, where it is in inventory, and put a hold on it," Goyal said. "That's a high-value space, and in that scenario you need a highly available database and transaction system."

IBM is banking that its next-generation DB2, code-named Viper, will create more high-value scenarios with its ability to natively store and manipulate relational and XML data. Due out this summer, Viper also will become part of IBM's upcoming SOA foundation, Goyal said.