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Face-off: Oracle vs. SQL Server

Two site editors square off on the topic of SQL Server versus Oracle, a debate with equally loud fans on either side of the issue.

Face-offCan a Microsoft SQL Server fan be converted to the Oracle DBMS? Not easily. The loyalty that database administrators feel for their chosen vendor borders on the fanatical. It's a love-hate relationship, where only those using Oracle, for example, are allowed to complain about Oracle. If you choose to use the less costly, simpler Microsoft SQL Server, then you had better not hurl insults at Oracle, or its DBAs will be, to put it mildly, "vocal" in its defense. Then again, Microsoft SQL Server users are just as devoted and are looking forward to Yukon trouncing the competition. Two site editors debate the merits of both systems here.

Oracle is worth every penny

By Robyn Lorusso, Site Editor


There is no fair way to compare Oracle's database directly to Microsoft SQL Server.

Doing so is like comparing a BMW to a Honda Accord. No one disputes that Honda makes very good, reliable cars. Yet many folks would prefer to pay for the bells and whistles that a BMW provides.

So maybe it's a stretch to compare a database to a luxury car, but consider this: Data is the lifeblood of a company.  If you have the option, wouldn't you rather have your data -- and ultimately your job security -- riding on a database with more capacity and options than its competitor?

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The truth is, you get what you pay for. Cost is the biggest argument against buying Oracle products and, admittedly, the company has a ways to go when it comes to simplifying licensing negotiations and lowering prices. In its defense, Oracle did recently reduce the price of its Standard Edition 10g database for SMBs -- so that it's now equal to the price of SQL Server. While some users say that's not enough, and that Enterprise Edition price cuts are also needed, let's consider what you get when you pay for an Oracle product.

First, you can use Oracle on multiple platforms. Whereas Microsoft created SQL Server to be used on the Microsoft platform only, Oracle is available on multiple platforms, including Windows, Unix and now Linux, which is the foundation of Oracle's Real Application Clusters (RAC) strategy.

RAC technology is one area where Oracle really outshines SQL Server. RAC enables two instances to act on the same data in active-active configurations. That, combined with diskless contention handling, or Cache Fusion, in Oracle 9i's Parallel Server, enables you to place any application in a cluster without any changes, and it offers upward scalability. SQL Server offers no such clustering technology.

For more specific technical comparisons between the two databases, check out the article "Why Oracle wins in a comparison with SQL Server", and be sure not to miss any of the heated reader feedback.

However, you won't find disagreement over the fact that Oracle's rich feature set accommodates large applications (greater than 100 GB), while SQL Server is designed for workgroup-level solutions. If there's a chance now or in the future that your company will increase its database requirements, or implement an OLTP or data warehousing application, then Oracle is the solution you want.

It's my position that Oracle is the more mature DBMS, and that it gives you a lot more bang for your buck, particularly for companies with various platform requirements and larger applications.

A DBMS investment marks the start of a long trip, and I'd feel safer traveling with Oracle.


Making the case for SQL Server

By Tim Dichiara, Site Editor


SQL Server has been the fastest-growing enterprise DBMS for three years running. It recently overtook Oracle as the No. 1 DBMS on Windows. Given this meteoric ascent, the question becomes: Why? Can the rise of SQL Server be traced merely to Microsoft's deep marketing pockets? Or to some nefarious conspiracy hatched in Bill Gates' Seattle mansion?


The reason is simple: SQL Server is a quality product that meets most business needs most of the time, at the lowest price point of any major DBMS vendor. Oracle's market share has declined during the same time period for the inverse reason: It is a premium product with high-end features that relatively few businesses need.

Oracle snobs don't even attempt to dispute SQL Server's superior usability and low cost. It has a well-earned reputation for its easy installation, self-tuning capabilities, graphical administration, integrated business intelligence and extensive collection of help wizards. The price-performance ratio is better than Oracle, DB2 and Sybase; for example, Oracle 9i Standard Edition is three times more expensive than SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition. Oracle has been forced to play catch-up with its new 10g, which has a greater emphasis on self-administration, a friendlier user experience and a lower price tag. The reason for these changes to the notoriously expensive and complex DBMS is clear.

If SQL Server critics have admitted defeat on these issues, what's left? Here are some additional arguments they make:

SQL Server can't scale. The latest Winter Corp. study showed that, true, for DSS apps, SQL Server lags behind Oracle, IBM and Teradata. However, for OLTP applications, it is up at the top. There are many multi-terabyte databases managed by SQL Server: Rosetta Genomics (10 TB), Verizon Communications (5 TB), Lucent (3 TB, with 33 billion rows!), and many more. It can theoretically support exabyte-level databases, using either the scale-up or scale-out methods. Workload benchmarks also show SQL Server can handle all but the most extreme throughputs: A single server can support more than 250,000 active users and a 32-node cluster can process 700,000 transactions per minute. Is that enough scalability for you?

SQL Server has poor availability. With built-in log shipping, online backups, failover clusters and native support of virtual servers, very robust applications can be built with SQL Server. Indeed, there is evidence of this in the real world: NASDAQ (99.97% available, 2 million transactions a day), Barnes and Noble (99.98% available, 5.6 million visitors a month), (99.99% available, 8.6 million page views a day), and more. By the way, 99.99% available is equivalent to less than 10 minutes per month of downtime. Is that enough availability for you?

SQL Server is not secure. Because of its strong-arm tactics in the past, Microsoft products will always be major targets of hackers. Nonetheless, SQL Server holds up well against this onslaught. (Windows is another story!) It features role-based security for server, database and application profiles; integrated tools for security auditing, tracking 18 different security events and additional sub-events; plus support for sophisticated file and network encryption, including SSL, Kerberos and delegation. SQL Server 2000 has been certified by the federal government's C2-level security certification -- the highest level of security available in the industry. Many of these features are available only as extra-charge options on Oracle 9i, and only for the enterprise edition. Is that enough security for you?

SQL Server's Achilles' heel has always been and remains the operating system: Windows. One could argue that, thus far, Windows is not adequate for a large-scale, mission-critical enterprise infrastructure. Having a large choice of operating systems gives a clear advantage to Oracle, DB2 and the others.

In general, however, the future looks bright for SQL Server. The next generation product, code-named Yukon, promises a slew of new functionality, including real-time BI, a new integrated suite of management tools, database mirroring, integrated .NET and much more.

So is SQL Server the "best" DBMS? Clearly, it is good enough for most businesses, most of the time. That positioning in the market, combined with a reasonable price, has led to its rapid rise. Oracle's "premium price for a premium product" approach may be appropriate for the extreme high end, but in this economic climate, it has proved deadly. Keep in mind, however, that "best" must be defined in the context of what you need out of your DBMS, the costs versus your budget, and the availability of affordable DBAs and developers in your locale.

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