Is There Value In Cheap Databases?

With IBM, Oracle and Microsoft all offering free and discounted databases, some believe the move is on toward full-scale commoditization of databases.

Within the past few months, Oracle and IBM started fielding freebies 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 MySQL and PostgreSQL databases, which can be had for nothing, or very close to it.

Some solution providers and vendors, though, say 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 get with Access in [Microsoft] Office.”

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But Phil Mogavero, CEO of Data Systems Worldwide, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based solution provider, said he likes the trend. “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. In an interview at IBM PartnerWorld in Las Vegas last month, he said there’s a market for both volume-oriented and value-add databases.

IBM Software, Somers, N.Y., 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, Goyal noted.

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

“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,” he said.

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 service-oriented architecture (SOA) foundation, Goyal said.

Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz and Associates, a Waltham, Mass., research and consulting firm, agrees that there is room for both low- and high-end databases.

For simple tasks, people can use “some open-source play, but if there’s a credible vendor behind it, they’re probably safer,” Hurwitz said. “As you move into information services you’ll need something more. You’ll get a lot more nuance in terms of how you’ll use and manage data—everything from the repository to meta data and master data management and information services,” she said.

Microsoft is even prettying up SQL Server 2005 Express, adding Reporting Services—with full text search—to Service Pack 1 of the release available this month. The database initially shipped last November.