SQL Server pros aren't charmed by open source

Increased competition from open source hasn't affected SQL pros. DBMS shoppers put cost second to features and support --- two areas where some DBAs say open source is deficient.

They are curious about the growing number of open source database products on the market, but some SQL Server DBAs say they remain doubtful that companies will adopt it for the long haul.

Linux is constantly changing and always trying to reinvent Microsoft.
Ron VanZanten,
managing officer of business intelligence Premier Bankcard

Open source DBMSes, have been growing in popularity since Sweden-based MySQL AB, began marketing its no-frills system to businesses on limited budgets. As MySQL builds its customer base, vendors have begun to notice the interest and have released code of their own DBMSes to the open source community.

Computer Associates open sourced its Ingres DBMS this year and IBM also released the code of its Cloudscape Java DBMS to an open source consortium. PostgreSQL, a longstanding open source DBMS, is also gaining traction.

Many analysts are predicting the open source offerings will make a dent in the market share of commercial DBMSes, such as Microsoft's SQL Server, as adoption will begin spreading to mid- and even large-sized businesses.

Even with open source on their doorstep, most DBAs who gathered recently at the Professional Association of SQL Server users in Orlando are unfazed by the open source movement. Some see it as a passing fad, while others, more respectful of the open source community, say the DBMSes will serve the short term needs of start up businesses with limited cash flow.

"The largest businesses want reliability and support and you don't get support from open source," said Ron VanZanten, a former Unix administrator who serves as managing officer of business intelligence at Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Premier Bankcard. "Where am I going to turn to if our system goes down? We can't afford to have to search for fixes or ask for help online."

VanZanten said that he wasn't thrilled when Linus Torvalds invented Linux using portions of the Unix code in a project he started in 1991. The first version of the Linux code was released in 1994 starting the foundation of a tight-knit user community of developers – something Unix never really had, VanZanten said.

"Linux is like a hobby for these guys," VanZanten said. "Linux is constantly changing and always trying to reinvent Microsoft."

Sajay M. Patel, a DBA at Michigan State University, said some of his coworkers have been tinkering with the MySQL DBMS. While the low licensing cost is attractive, it still lacks many of the features that many users need, Patel said.

"Cost is not the only reason to go with a database," Patel said. "It costs a lot more money to install and migrate over to a database then the actual licensing cost."

While some SQL Server DBAs discredit open source DBMSes, there is no denying that open source is beginning to make a dent in low end deployments, said Noel Yuhanna, a senior industry analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. Larger deployments of MySQL and other open source products will take place in the future, Yuhanna said.

"Open source products are beginning to mature and as they do they will offer more features and functionality desired by larger enterprises," Yuhanna said. "It's a very active community and it's got the attention of a lot of enterprises."

For more information:

Ingres open source database on the rise.
Visit our open source DBMS center

It has the attention of Microsoft executives. Increased competition from open source offerings has raised some eyebrows at Microsoft, which has traditionally been the DBMS of choice for companies seeking out a low-budget offering. Microsoft is keeping a close eye on the evolution of Linux, said Microsoft executive William P. Baker, who heads the SQL Server business intelligence unit.

While Microsoft appears to have ignored open source when it comes to its commercial products, the company is releasing some minor tools under open source licenses as a way to reach out to the community of open source developers, Baker said.

Microsoft would like to duplicate open source's active and vocal user community. To have thousands of developers repairing and improving a product for free is a bonus for any vendor, Baker said.

"We're very much interested in how and why the user community is so strong," Baker said. "It's something we feel we want to nurture with our own community."

Roland Eberhart, a Houston-based former Unix administrator, chose MySQL DBMS for his fledgling consultancy. Eberhart said he chose the open source DBMS because his start up funds were limited.

"Yes, it's a no-frills database, but it's doing the job as the main engine of my company," Eberhart said. "They can discredit open source all they want, but I know it's a treasure to myself and a lot of other small business owners."

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