Consolidating the database market

The look of the database industry is continually changing. Currently, several factors are affecting the way databases are created and used today. For instance, the pervasiveness of handheld devices has driven the release of condensed database packages. Also, new opportunities in the embedded database market are emerging.

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By  Peter Branton Published  March 13, 2005

Introduction|~||~||~|The look of the database industry is continually changing. Currently, several factors are affecting the way databases are created and used today. For instance, the pervasiveness of handheld devices has driven the release of condensed database packages. Also, new opportunities in the embedded database market are emerging. More and more applications are being shipped with a database to achieve tighter integration and reduced total cost of ownership. At the same time, enterprises are looking to standardise their database products. The need to reduce costs and improve operational efficiency and quality is driving database consolidation. As a core element of any application, the database is in a unique position to be easily influenced by a variety of factors, be it in terms of new technology or changes in market behaviour. ||**||Mobile data|~||~||~|The growth of the mobile and handheld markets is making a significant impact on the database industry. The increased adoption of handheld computing devices is driving database vendors to create small footprint versions of their database solutions to accommodate storage for data collected by these handhelds. Oracle, last month, launched its latest mobile database package. Called Oracle Lite 10g, the mobile database solution is aimed at mobile users who are situated in areas where network coverage is unavailable, unreliable or unsecured. Through a bi-directional synchronisation server, users can consolidate information between the server and the device at regular intervals. The system is transport agnostic, meaning data transfer can be done through local area networks, wireless, satellite or radio. Oracle Database Lite 10g also touts advanced recovery systems to allow users to resume their activities using point-in-time check points, which help cut associated communication costs and eliminate replication of work. “It’s a very cute product,” says Ayman Abouseif, senior marketing director for Middle East and Africa at Oracle. “A lot of people use notebooks and handheld devices and everybody is connected all the time. What people do with Oracle Database Lite 10g is so exciting because it allows you to take a full database application, a part of the database application, or a portion of the database and run it on your device. “You can use it, update it or do everything you want to do with it. And when you go back to the office, you can connect it to your computer and the databases — the one residing in your server and the one in your handheld — will know how to update each other.” According to Abouseif, Oracle is also applying some of its grid strategy to Oracle Database Lite 10g. “The way the grid works is that it harmonises all the storage, database and application components and gives you the flexibility to allocate your computing resources for any business processes at any given time,” explains Abouseif. He says a grid environment will help companies with mobile applications to support the computing requirements needed when updating databases. “If you think of an environment where there are a lot of mobile users, all of whom synchronise their data at the end of the day, you will need sufficient processing power to accept all that data and update the master database,” Abouseif says. “In a non-grid environment, you will have to buy a lot of servers and processing power to make sure that you have sufficient capabilities for the task. With grid computing, you not only address the needed computing power, you can also allocate the resources to other business processes, such as business intelligence, whenever these resources are free.” Similarly, Microsoft has SQL Server CE Edition as a complementary database tool for mobile and embedded devices. According to Rani El-Kik, server product manager, Microsoft South Gulf, SQL Server CE is ideal for mobile, wireless and embedded applications. “It delivers essential relational database functionality in a small footprint while providing flexible data access and the familiar feel of SQL Server,” he says. IBM also offers a mobile database package, which it calls DB2 Everyplace. It is a small footprint relational database that features high performance data synchronisation to enable mobile employees to tap into critical data to respond faster to their customers’ needs. Like Oracle Lite, it includes a bi-directional synchronisation server to update data between the mobile device and enterprise data sources. “This is a growth opportunity in the market. As we go into an on-demand and distributed environment, more and more will be done remotely on these pervasive devices. The device itself needs to have data storage capabilities. We can already see how effective and efficient it has become, but when we talk about business applications and having data residing in larger systems then it becomes very important for these devices to have connectors,” says Bashar Kilani. manager of IBM software group for the Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan. “The challenge here is to use technology that will make it look seamless. You are not at all times connected. There are only certain instances in time when you are connected. The trick is for the technology to be able to replicate data every now and then, and make sure that the data between the devices and the applications are in sync when it comes to the end of the day,” says Kilani. ||**||Open source|~||~||~|The industry has seen a growing interest in open source databases. The rise of Linux has put pressure on database vendors to open up their source codes. In recent times, several database companies, such as Sybase and CA, have released codes for what were proprietary products. Price pressures imposed by open source database companies, like MySQL, is forcing the more established database vendors to turn to open source in order to push their prices down, according to Forrester Research analyst Noel Yuhanna. IBM’s Kilani says commoditisation is pushing the industry to open up source code. “Because our environment is so commoditised today, you will find the industry being pressured to open up source codes for computing commodities,” he says. Kilani denies, though, that IBM is making its database codes available for the open source community because of the value and complexity of the code. “I am not aware of any plans by IBM to push DB2 as an open source database. What is certain is that IBM has always been supporting open standards. Our databases run on all platforms, and they are very much based on open standards and integrated on open architecture,” Kilani explains. Meanwhile, Oracle dismisses the whole notion of an open source database. “Are we likely to have an open source database? No,” says Abouseif, who believes that there are no viable business opportunities on free software. “A lot of us often use the terms open source and Linux interchangeably. The reality is Linux is being developed as an open source environment, but no one actually uses free Linux applications that you can download from the web for business purposes. If you are to buy Linux, you would still want some sort of support. Companies like Red Hat offer this, through a commercialised version of Linux,” Abouseif explains. “We contribute to open source, but at the end of the day, you would want a product that has some support, and someone has to put a stamp on the product to provide support,” he says. “It’s highly unlikely that you will find a sustainable business model that is based on writing codes and then uploading them for free. At the same time, it’s also highly unlikely that you will find a business that will exist on just free downloadable software and use it for their operations,” says Abouseif ||**||Price war|~||~||~|Forrester Research predicts a price war is looming in the market, particularly in the entry-level database space. Both IBM and Oracle have already introduced lower-cost editions of their databases in an effort to increase sales in the medium enterprise sector. “We have a lot going on particularly in the mid-market. We have released the smaller versions of our database, which we call Standard Edition and Standard Edition One,” says Oracle’s Abouseif. Oracle has cut the price of its Oracle Database 10g Standard Edition by US$1,000 per processor in order to grab some of the mid-market customers from Microsoft, which is currently dominating that space. The company has also done extensive ISV (independent software vendor) campaigns to increase the adoption of the database. “We have a lot of ISV adoptions. To a great extent, the fact that we have re-priced the Standard Edition One for the mid-market, coupled with our strong ISV recruitment campaigns, is playing very well,” Abouseif says. Microsoft plans to keep its pole position in the mid-market space with the upcoming launch of its SQL Server 2005 family in the middle of the year. Aside from new functionalities, SQL Server 2005 will deliver a modified licensing model that Microsoft says will provide better alternatives to price-sensitive customers, particularly smaller organisations. Microsoft SQL Server 2005 will mark the first major overhaul for the SQL Server in five years. It will come in four versions, each one catering to different sizes of organisation. The Enterprise Edition will be aimed at large enterprises with business-critical applications. It will provide complete data and analysis functionalities, and offer data partitioning, advanced high availability with database mirroring, complex analytic and integration capabilities, ad hoc reporting with Report Builder, a database snapshot, and complete online and parallel operations. The Standard Edition will be for medium-sized businesses that require highly available systems. It will include enhanced functionality that were previously available only with SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, like data mirroring and clustering, and integrated 64-bit support for both x64 and Itanium systems. When released, it will support up to four processors, unlimited database size and unlimited system memory. Meanwhile, the Workgroup Edition will be targeted at SMBs. It is designed to be an easy-to-use database solution, and will be ideal for customers who want rich database features in a simple-to-manage solution. It will support up to two processors, unlimited database size and at least two gigabytes of memory. Microsoft will also be offering a free downloadable version called the Express Edition. This edition is developed for building simple data-driven applications. The company says it is the fastest way for novice developers to learn, develop and deploy small-footprint, data-driven applications, as well as an easy way for customers and partners to get started with SQL Server 2005. It will also be useful for larger enterprise companies looking to dedicate smaller databases to developer projects. In addition, partners will be able to embed and redistribute SQL Server 2005 Express Edition with their applications. It will include a graphical management tool, a report wizard and controls, replication, an SQL Service Broker client, native database encryption, key management support, and Extensible Markup Language (XML) support. The launch of SQL Server 2005 will also coincide with first time customers being able to access Microsoft’s recently announced licensing for multi-core processors, which the company is offering to customers at no extra cost, unlike Oracle and IBM, which charge for a database licence for each processor core. “Instead of a piece-meal approach, which increases complexity and requires customers to spend more time and money integrating the various pieces to work together, with Microsoft SQL Server, we are offering customers a complete database platform with integrated business intelligence, development and management tools that ship in the box at no additional charge,” says EL-Kik. ||**||Road ahead|~||~||~|Microsoft will be concentrating its SQL Server 2005 products in furthering the company’s commitment to provide data management and data analysis tools in one product at one price, says El-Kik. “In the long term, the plan is to focus on a few key areas, including developer productivity, security, high availability and scalability,” he adds. On the other hand, IBM is building its database business around information management. According to Kilani, IBM believes that companies benefit not from one component alone but in the amalgamation of the different elements that make a complete end-to-end solution. “We believe that the value proposition today is not only in the database alone. It’s in the applications around it. It’s in business intelligence, in archiving applications, content management and in pervasive computing technology. Our long term strategy is not to develop individual components but a complete end-to-end infrastructure,” Kilani explains Abouseif believes that the database market, despite its maturity, still holds a lot of opportunities for database vendors like Oracle. “Our research estimates that the proportion of data in the world that is stored electronically is only about 2%, so the amount of data that needs to be moved from paper to computers is huge. The amount of unstructured data sitting inside desktop machines is huge,” he says. “The challenge for database vendors is how to create capabilities in and around the database to acquire more data and to get the data stored in a very structured, very secure environment,” concludes Abouseif. ||**||

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