Interview

Microsoft: Oracle isn't "all that"

Margie Semilof
Do you position SQL Server as an enterprise database or as a workgroup database?
It depends. There is an enterprise version of SQL Server, and there is a standard version that small and medium-sized businesses tend to favor. The needs of [both groups] are not that different. High performance, the ability to write applications quickly, and scalability are important to both. You don't think of a medium-sized business as having terabytes of information, but they aspire to grow. How does your database strategy differ from Oracle's?
Our strategy is to provide highly manageable, scalable and performance databases that integrate with the operating system [customers] are using; that integrate with the customer toolset, Visual Studio specifically; and integrate with the desktop they are using, which is Office. Oracle's strategy is 'the database is everything.' They are encouraging people to replace file servers [etc.] with relational databases. We understand that relational databases have a purpose, but we are not thinking the database can replace every piece of software a customer can replace in the organization. Oracle claims one of its strongest advantages in the enterprise is its ability to cluster databases. What does SQL Server bring enterprises?
One, most organizations today are cost- conscious. We address cost by providing highly-manageable software. With Oracle, there is a lot of knob-tuning every time you have to fine tune the process.

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SQL Server is smart enough to figure out things like when you have to allocate memory, disk I/O, reads and writes. Also, degree of parallelism, lock allocations, user connections, connection poolings are all automatically optimized in SQL Server, and it happens dynamically without affecting the production system. SQL Server studies and tweaks the whole system without user intervention. That's something Oracle can't do. With Oracle, to address the different types of workload characteristics throughout the day, you are doing different operations. You have to manually reconfigure the server for each scenario every time something changes. This is human resource-intensive, time consuming and the configuration is often inexact because of the large number of factors that need to be considered. Oracle has some nifty technologies in terms of its clusters. They've fixed problems in their older version, called Oracle Parallel Servers. But at the end of the day it still does not provide the high availability and scalability that they claim. Even Oracle's own best benchmark results are on SMP systems, not clusters. You [also] need to understand that the application needs to be aware of that cluster. If it's not there then there is minimal advantage. The developer environment is another technical advantage. Our development environment is consistent with the tools people are using today, Visual Studio and third-party tools that provide full support for developing Web services today. Another place is in business intelligence and business analytics. The user scenario is the ability to analyze data from multiple data sources. Business intelligence helps me aggregate information in a single place and run customized queries, and receive a multi-dimensional view of information. What's the status of the 64-bit version of SQL Server?
We've had [the first] beta out for the last few months. One customer is running it in production. We will probably release our 64-bit implementation when Windows releases its 64-bit implementation -- maybe in a few months. Where 64-bit changes the game, is it lets us eke out that much more if you get into these multi-terabyte data warehousing scenes. It gives us one more arrow in the quiver, so we can go out and win these big implementations. What type of enterprise typically installs SQL Server?
SQL Server does well in manufacturing and in financial organizations. In some cases, it's used as a departmental database, and in other cases it's used throughout the enterprise. Verizon Wireless is using it for its billing system. Verizon has two to three regional billing centers. [SQL Server is] deployed on the West Coast for the west region to the tune of six, going to nine terabytes and [is now being] deployed in the east. They are using us for the backbone of their operation. Pilgrim's Pride, a chicken processor, runs 1.2 terabytes of data in a SAP database for its manufacturing and packaging operations. For every example in the enterprise, it's not hard to find a deployment at the enterprise or branch level. How does SQL Server integrate with .NET?
.NET is about developing Web services that use XML as a standard data type; using SOAP to remotely run applications and Web services; and using UDDI to search for and identify Web services. We have XML in the databases today. The ability to run SOAP commands in SQL is there as is the ability to use UDDI. We shipped an add-on pack, part of a Web services tool kit, back in January. This lets me take a stored procedure, a command written for SQL Server, and turn it into a Web service without additional programming. Lots of people have the perception that if I want to turn a procedure into a Web service, I have to rewrite it. The Web services tool kit should take away that doubt. Isn't that something that all databases can do?
This capability is not unique to SQL Server. It's our implementation that differentiates us -- the quality of the software, integration with the desktop and the business model we've built. The foundation is OLAP [on line analytical processing], and that lets you build the multi-dimensional database, run queries and return reports. We have taken the 'ease of use' mantra and applied it to OLAP, so you can develop these databases with a series of wizards. With Oracle, it's a command line, and it requires programming in Java. There's no command line with us. We've made OLAP a core part of our database offering. When you buy SQL Server Standard, you get OLAP in that box. We look at SQL Server as a collection of services. We will charge you a fee for services, and you decide which you want to use. Oracle sells expensive software designed to run on expensive hardware and tries to get as much out customers as possible. When customers choose Oracle over SQL Server, what is the reason they give?
They say 'we've already paid for it.' Largely it's a financial reason. I don't want to discount that there are customers that stay with Oracle because they are biased on Unix. Or they don't want to put their organization through [additional] training. And some customers think that Unix databases perform better than Windows. We are pretty good at showing them that's not the case, but they choose to believe. It's seldom that we walk into a green field engagement against Oracle and lose.

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How will Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative affect SQL Server?
Our entire development organization stopped developing for a short time and did a security scrub. We found some interesting potential problem areas that we were able to close -- possible security gaps. We not only scrubbed our own code, but we put every developer through security training. They were taught what to look for when writing our new code. It pushed us to go back and look at code written for Yukon [next generation SQL Server due out in 2003] today, to make sure it's as airtight as we can possibly make it. [As a result of the initiative] there will be no major feature changes and no feature take backs.

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