SQL Server gains ground on Oracle

Microsoft Corp. is not used to playing second fiddle, so you can imagine how strange the mood must have been around the software giant's federal division during the past few years knowing that 75 percent of the government market would not touch your database product.

But things started to change for the company last November when it released Version 7.0 of its flagship database product, SQL Server. For the first time, Microsoft had a real enterprise-level database tool to offer the government. Now, almost one year into marketing and selling the product to the government, Microsoft officials are basking in the glow of what they say has been a 110 percent increase in federal sales.

Barry Goffe, Microsoft's SQL Server product manager, said the company has captured 750,000 federal enterprise agreement seats in the past year, with the total size of the federal database market estimated to be between 3 million and 3.5 million seats.

According to Goffe, SQL Server's low cost of ownership, time to market and data warehousing capabilities have been the primary factors fueling Microsoft's growing federal presence.

"Agencies are trying to be more cost-conscious, which plays into one of our key value propositions," Goffe said. In addition, while other vendors offer solutions that require more integration work with secondary applications, "we ship everything in a single SQL Server box," Goffe said.

Microsoft poured three years of development work into SQL Server 7.0, enhancing significantly the product's ability to support large-scale enterprise requirements, Goffe said. A lot of effort has been made to add self-tuning, self-management and data analysis functionality to SQL Server, as well as out-of-the-box ease of use, he said.

"The word is finally starting to get around," said Chris Guziak, business development manager for Microsoft's Enterprise Systems Group. According to Guziak, the company's projected growth in the federal sector "will be about the same, if not more," in the coming year.

"It's a snowball effect," he said. "The myth is being shattered that we do not scale."

Helping to shatter that myth are recent case studies in enterprise deployments of SQL Server throughout the government. Two of the more robust examples of SQL Server's growing acceptance include an upcoming 1,500 concurrent user project in support of the federal prison system and an Army electronic-commerce program that supports transactions with 65,000 of the Army's trading partners. Other documented cases involving large SQL Server deployments include an Internal Revenue Service auditing system that eventually will support up to 15,000 users across 33 geographical regions and a Navy combat readiness tracking effort that spans 85 ships and 4,300 users.

A recent study by the research firm Gartner Group Inc. reinforced the notion that Microsoft's database fortunes are poised to change, predicting that by 2000 the company would overtake Oracle Corp. as the leader in the Windows NT-based database market.

"Although Microsoft still faces some scalability, reliability and availability challenges, SQL Server 7.0 is becoming a more viable option for a broad range of applications, which will be good enough for many enterprises," the study concluded.

The growing acceptance of SQL Server throughout the government begs the question, "What will Oracle do to counter the offensive?"

However, Steve Perkins, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Federal, sees the current state of the federal database market a little differently than Microsoft.

According to Perkins, growth in the federal sector is coming from legacy system replacement and electronic-commerce initiatives, both of which are being driven by the Internet. "And in those two markets, we don't see Microsoft at all. We see IBM Corp.," Perkins said.

Jeremy Burton, vice president for server marketing at Oracle, said the database market is "one of the few areas that Microsoft has ventured into and has made very little progress." Microsoft's success "never really materialized," Burton said, primarily because it has focused on "the wrong product." Microsoft has focused on a client/server product while most of the industry is looking for an Internet solution, he said.

Goffe said Microsoft already is developing the next two versions of SQL Server, which will focus on enhancing the product's scalability, ease of use, data analysis and interoperability with other vendor platforms even more.

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