2014 State Of Database Tech: Think Retro

Conventional databases from Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM still dominate the enterprise, say respondents in our newest research. What will it take for NoSQL, DBaaS, and distributed systems to break through?
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Nowhere in technology is the chasm between "state of the art" and "actual use" so wide as with databases. Tech journalists and industry pundits feed that gap, expending barrels of virtual ink on innovations, including Hadoop, in-memory systems, and Amazon's Redshift. At publication time, a search for "Hadoop" on Google News yielded just shy of 15,000 results, versus 13,400 for "Oracle database."

Yet despite its online popularity, Hadoop is in production or pilot by only 13% of the 956 respondents to our 2014 State of Database Technology Survey, all of them involved with their organizations' database strategies. Compare that with Microsoft SQL Server (75%) or Oracle (47%). Just 5% use MongoDB, 3% have bought SAP Hana, and 1% use Vertica, to name three databases getting big play in the press. Even FileMaker beats startup darlings Cassandra, Riak, and MariaDB.

And we're not talking about small shops here: 48% of respondents hail from organizations with more than 1,000 employees (23% have more than 10,000), and 37% have at least $100 million in annual revenue.

Today's database landscape isn't just static. It's positively retro. Remember 2004? Facebook had just launched, the iPad wasn't even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye, and Gartner's database market share report put IBM (34.1%), Oracle (33.7%), and Microsoft (20%) in the top spots. In our survey, Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM still hold the top spots; we do add MySQL, but that's about it for innovation. The top six databases in use are all relational; you have to go down to the 10th most widely used database in our survey to find NoSQL (MongoDB, at 5%).

And those relational databases from Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM? They're essentially just updated versions of the companies' 2004 offerings.

Oracle gets the lion's share of respondents' database spending, with 46% of those using Oracle devoting more than half of their database budgets to it, followed by SQL Server (34% spend more than half), Access (25%), and DB2 (24%). Yet despite stubbornly high pricing and concerns about using older technology as data variety and volume expand, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle needn't worry about losing customers fast. Among respondents, 56% of SQL Server shops, 44% of both Oracle and MySQL users, and 29% of DB2 shops plan to increase their use of those databases.

Where's the disruption?

IT stronghold
Cloud computing and shadow IT have shaken up many enterprise tech fiefdoms. Not so in databases. The difference is that cloud and shadow IT are driven by employees and developers getting work done without IT's involvement. Databases, however, are different for three big reasons. First, the constituency that most cares about databases -- database administrators -- is usually part of IT. Second, enterprise application developers don't much care which database sits under the abstraction layer, at least not enough to go to battle. IT is charged with making code live, so again, the database decision remains with IT.

Finally, database hardware choice is insanely important. When you're using one server or a small set of co-located systems to handle all of an application's writes, the hardware's speed and uptime are crucial. Very few respondents' production databases even run on virtual machines, much less hybrid or public cloud. And thus, the status quo sticks.

So do you think you can hold pat for another 10 years?

Maybe. But it's no mystery why venture capitalists, cloud providers, and startups are bullish for NoSQL, and companies like ConAgra are ponying up for expensive in-memory technology for a reason. While conventional relational databases can, theoretically, serve any data store use, they're not always the best choice for today's global, varied, and mobilized workloads. And that's not just because the licensing and hardware demands of conventional relational databases are limiting and expensive. More often, alternatives make sense because modern applications have requirements that simply didn't exist 10 years ago.

For example, Forbes estimates that, for every minute is down, the company loses $66,240. We live in an always-on world, where nightly scheduled maintenance windows are verboten. A high volume of writes, broad geographic distribution, and frequent upgrades are facts of life. New databases such as Mongo and Riak were built from the ground up to run on a distributed architecture and address all of these factors.

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