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BI: The New Database Differentiator

More than ever, companies dealing with major database vendors are buying not merely a database, but a BI-database framework. We examine the three major entrants in detail.
Price, Performance And Reliability

Aside from new features, the old stand-bys -- price, performance and reliability -- still impact sales. Performance has always been a factor in database systems, if for no other reason than because IT database needs have generally outrun what database vendors can deliver. As a measure of performance, the set of database benchmarks from the non-profit Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) have over the last 20 years garnered gradually increasing respect for the detailed cost and performance information they provide on databases. The TPC sponsors four performance-related benchmarks:

1) TPC-App is an Application Server and web services benchmark.

2) TPC-C is an on-line transaction processing benchmark.

3) TPC-H is an ad-hoc, decision support benchmark.

4) TPC-W is a transactional web e-Commerce benchmark.

Of the four benchmarks, the two database ones -- TPC-C and TPC-H -- have the longest history and the greatest credibility in the IT community.

Recently there has been a double reversal of fortunes in the performance benchmark bragging rights among databases from IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. In the OLTP-based TPC Benchmarks, IBM leads the way by nearly two times the best Oracle TPC-C benchmark and four times the best Microsoft TPC-C results. Oracle dominated the TPC-C benchmarks in the 1990s. In late 1998, Microsoft swept decisively into the lead, which it held until 2003 when Oracle topped the charts. Finally, at the end of 2004 IBM took its now-imposing lead. It is also important to note that IBM takes three of the top four places in TPC-C price/performance ratios as well.

The Council's TPC-H benchmarks measure a decision-support/BI-oriented mix of queries. IBM leads the way here as well, except among the largest databases, where Oracle comes to the fore. Again, these measures mark a reversal of recent history, when either Microsoft or Oracle dominated the low size databases, and IBM or Teradata dominated the large TPC-H database test sizes. Here is a summary of results:

100GB database - IBM DB2 takes top 4 spots and best price/performance

300GB database - IBM DB2 takes top 7 spots and best price/performance

1000GB database - IBM DB2 takes top spot, Oracle the next 3, IBM best price/perf.

3000GB database - Oracle takes top 7 spots and best price/performance

10000GB database - Oracle takes 1, 3 and best price performance; IBM takes the 2nd spot

Significant for Oracle is that this gives some degree of substance to their claim that the grid-computing approach can lift their databases to new performance levels. Microsoft only appears below the top five rankings, and then in only two of the TPC-H benchmarks. The company is promising new benchmarks for SQL Server 2005, however. Given new 64-bit processing and OS, along with grid and clustering capabilities, users should expect a new level of benchmarks from all of the vendors; but clearly Microsoft has the most ground to make up.

Reliability and customer satisfaction in the database arena are hard to measure. There are sophisticated readers' satisfaction polls like the new ones from CMP's Intelligent Enterprise magazine, which show Microsoft leading in customer satisfaction. This reviewer would also tend to give credence to the J.D. Power polls on software satisfaction that will be arriving later this year. On the reliability and availability side, the question is really about server operating system availability and database reliability. Unfortunately, here again there are no readily available and universally respected studies. However, growing consensus indicates that IBM and Oracle have taken the lead in advanced database control for such tasks as recovery, failover, backup, and ongoing system maintenance through self-healing features. Clearly with their cross platform offerings, IBM and Oracle offer more choices to customers on getting the exact OS+database package with the availability, reliability, security, price/performance and other key factors they prefer.

Finally, in the area of price Microsoft has always been a leader, and the new SQL Server 2005 appears to cement that position. Rather than doing elaborate configuration versus price comparisons, we consider the most straightforward price comparison. Single CPU, unlimited user licenses for enterprise editions with a full set of BI features are as follows:

IBM DB2 Warehouse edition ~ $60K/CPU

Oracle 10gdatabase + Business Intelligence 10g ~ $60K/CPU

Microsoft SQL Server 2005 ~ $25K/CPU

There's also a question of different support and upgrade options in each case. As well, Microsoft has said it will consider dual core processors as a single CPU. With multi-core processors from Intel and AMD due for delivery soon, the question of how long that "discount" remains available is a legitimate concern.

Despite the usual pricing haze, Microsoft appears to be leading the pricing parade, and by a margin as big as it is losing the OLTP performance benchmarks. But we have been giving SQL Server 2005 much leeway in this review as it is still in beta, no benchmarks are available and the delivery date as been pushed back yet another 6 months to the end of the year. However, as the database vendors jockey for market position, look for pricing to change as more, not fewer, BI features and functions are bundled with their databases.

Summary

BI-based features and functionality are becoming pervasive in the three major databases. Oracle has gone to the extent of writing BI algorithms directly into the database engine. This presents opportunity and risk for potential database buyers. Shops that are buying primarily for OLTP and operational systems may be paying for more database software than they need. One of the more popular features of the embedded, small-factor databases is the ability of the DBA to configure which basic database features are in the each database instance; but the pricing stays the same regardless of how many features are used. As basic databases becomes more varied this may change, and new database types and pricing may emerge in the maturing market.

The BI marketplace has also changed dramatically. Third-party BI developers, especially Windows-based BI vendors, must now compete with free, complete Microsoft BI tools on both the server and client. They will have to rethink their approach to the market. Free open-source BI software has begun to enter the market while all three major database vendors are offering bigger chunks of their product lines for free. Some BI vendors have already changed to vertical-market orientations. But the heat is on as top-end databases become BI database engines.

Jacques Surveyer is a writer, consultant and trainer; see some of his tips and tutorials at theOpenSourcery.com