According to Rizzo, in many sales situations that pit Oracle against SQL Server, SQL Server wins out, in spite of steep discounts that bring it below the cost of SQL Server. Thats because many customers want more than just the database itself, Rizzo said. They also want, for example, security, reporting or business intelligence components that have been separate add-ons for Oracles databases. "If you want high availability with RAC [Oracles Real Application Clusters technology], get ready to pay a lot of money," Rizzo said. "Theoretically, theyre offering the database at a low price, but, incrementally, youll pay through the nose. Its like buying a car: Do you want a sunroof? An undercoating that will prevent rust?" For all of which dealers charge car buyers extra, Rizzo said.
The pricing war is a good move for Oracle, according to analysts. As it is, Oracles hold on its No. 1 position in the RDBMS market has been eroding, with SQL Server and IBMs DB2 making steady gains. In addition, IBM in June 2003 released a low-cost version of DB2, named DB2 Express, which put even more pressure on Oracle to compete in terms of price.
"Right now [Oracle is] under pressure from Microsoft in terms of their ability to grow," said Noel Yuhanna, an analyst for Giga Information Group Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif. "Some four years ago, Oracle used to dominate on Windows in terms of databases. Slowly Microsoft has been grabbing more share on Windows, and they continue to do so. Its the right move for Oracle to retain customers on the Windows platform, as well as to have an edge where SQL Server customers are looking to expand their solutions across platforms where Oracle now dominates."
Indeed, Giga has surveyed customers and found that pricing is their No. 1 issue, Yuhanna said. "If Oracle controls that, theyre ahead in the game," he said. "This is definitely a bold move and will put them in the right spot if they want to maintain and grow their business."
Simplicity is another front on which Oracle is waging battle with Microsoft, long the king of ease-of-use. Oracles 10g platform has improved by leaps and bounds in this department, according to analysts, beta users and International Oracle Users Group members.
Ease of use is particularly important given that Oracle is planning RFID product enhancements that will cause database size to billow, Yuhanna noted. "The number of databases and the size of databases are growing, and with RFID coming into play, database size will grow into the realm of ultra-size databases, which will require easier management," he said.
Still, most agree that Microsoft still holds the lead in terms of ease of use. "Auto-tuning, auto-shrinking and auto-growing of databases has been in SQL Server since Version 7.0, so a datatabase administrator doesnt have to turn every dial and tweak every knob," said Microsofts Rizzo.
Another issue that pops up when pitting Oracle against SQL Server is integration. Charlie Garry, senior program director at Meta Group, in Simsbury, Conn., said that Oracle cant compete with Microsoft vis-à-vis integration with Windows and the entire Microsoft technology stack. "Its been my experience as a DBA that Oracle never ran all that well on the Windows platform anyway," he said.
One example is SQL Servers tight integration with Active Directory, pointed out Microsofts Rizzo. "If you have a network administrator that says, I want to know all instances of SQL Server throughout our environment, they can look in Active Directory and see that information. With Oracle, you have to use the Oracle management tool. The network administrator has to say to a DBA, Where are all our Oracle instances? Theres no tight integration there."
Editors note: This story has been changed since its initial posting to correct a misquote regarding Oracle integration.