SQL Server DBAs indifferent to open source threat

SQL Server DBAs are unfazed by increased competition from open source. When companies choose a DBMS, cost comes second to features and support --- two areas where some DBAs say open source is deficient.

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

Linux is like a hobby for these guys
Ron VanZanten
managing officer of business intelligencePremier 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 International Inc. 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 spreads to mid- and even large-sized businesses.

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Even with open source on their doorstep, most DBAs who gathered recently at the Professional Association of SQL Server users conference 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, said the DBMSes will serve the short-term needs of startup 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, S.D.-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 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," he said. "It costs a lot more money to install and migrate over to a database then the actual licensing cost."

Increased competition from open source offerings has raised some eyebrows at Microsoft, which has traditionally been the DBMS of choice for companies seeking 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 open source community, 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."

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