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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.

Barbara Darrow

April 7, 2006

4 Min Read

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.

Some Microsoft partners, while remaining true to SQL Server, acknowledge that Oracle ---and IBM—have both made strides on ease of use and management. They maintain, however that SQL Server retains the lead on both fronts.

At least Oracle pays attention to Microsoft now, whereas "they used not to acknowledge we were in the market."

He also took the offensive on Oracle's claims of invincibility. "Unbreakable? Give me a break," Flessner snorted. In some respects, Microsoft is still paying for the SQL Slammer-induced security glitches that hit three years ago. But even critics say the company has made progress on the security front.

Oracle which touted its "unbreakable" theme has seen some security glitches of its own in the meantime.

As for its other major database rival, Flessner credits IBM for getting aggressive on DB2 pricing. "They've matched our pricing on the low end and they're also getting ready for Viper [but] for some reason that honestly escapes me, they're not getting any share."

An IBM Software spokesman responded that IBM is "gaining market share and Microsoft is a distant third to both Oracle and IBM in every analyst report."

Flessner said Microsoft's inclusion of more and more business intelligence/analytics into the database is paying off in accounts.

Asked if Microsoft's recent acquisition of ProClarity, a former BI ally, shows that partners will be stressed going forward to compete with Microsoft, Flessner said there would be some impact. That deal was driven from the Micdrosoft Office/Information Worker side of the house, however.

"Clearly this is painful for some [but ] there is always room for partners. We're a large company with growth we have to maintain and we do this stuff to create a more holistic experience. But the whole area of Office business applications is not mine. This was not my acquisition," Flessner said.

Interestingly, Bill Baker formerly the business- ntelligence-for-the-masses guy on the SQL Server team moved over to the Office group after SQL Server 2005 launched last fall, as did Alex Paine, a senior product manager who also focused on SQL Server business intelligence.

Baker's new title is General Manager of Office Business Applications/Business Intelligence, or OBAPI.

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