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4/7/2006
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Interview: Microsoft's Database Guru

Paul Flessner, Microsoft's senior VP of data and storage platforms, takes exception to the categorization of databases as "commodity items" and talks about the technology's future. This includes the need to support pictures and sounds as well as text and data.

Many see databases as a commodity. But there's still a lot of interesting work to be done in the category, says Paul Flessner, Microsoft senior vice president of data and storage platforms.

And the drama is enhanced by the fact that the major vendors are fighting tooth and nail for every point of market share; on features; and on price.

Flessner expanded on the company's data-and-storage vision, saying that the data store of the future must handle sound and graphical data types as well as the more standard relational and non-relational text information.

"We've got to go past words and numbers and get to sounds and sights," ," he told CRN in an interview Thursday.

One problem is that "pattern matching is not there yet," Flessner said.

Microsoft's plan for a unified store to handle all these data types is still on, but timing is unclear. He expects more and more data--including satellite information-- to flow into stores from sensors and that will enable creation of richer applications.

"You will see an investment in spatial indexing, geometry libraries. I want to do a good job supporting ESRI and other geo-spatial guys and make a good library available so if you can't afford those packages do good spatial analysis with out them," Flessner said.

(ESRI is a leading maker of geographic information systems and mapping software.)

When will that happen? The next four to six years, although he'd like to get more done "sooner rather than later."

At PDC last year, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said that the "unified store" vision, already promised and late, would come with the next SQL Server or "Katmai" release wave.

In the here and now, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and to a lesser extent Sybase and the open-source database players are fighting for the hearts and minds of customers ranging from small businesses all the way up to fortune 10 enterprises.

Oracle execs now claim that Oracle 10g surpasses SQL Server in terms of ease-of-use and manageability.

"We're starting to challenge the Microsoft mindset. Oracle's recognized in the enterprise, and Microsoft has been known for ease of use. That's starting to change. We've been investing in self-managing database technology for four years.

On the other hand, as Microsoft starts to beef up [for enterprise use], they're starting to sacrifice manageability," said Mark Townsend, senior director of database product management for Oracle, Redwood Shores, Calif.

Flessner dismissed that contention. While acknowledging that in the past, SQL Server did not play much the truly big-database scene much, that has changed. "We were blocked on big hardware, we didn't have 64-bit support. But we've done scale up and caught up," he noted.

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