The standard Clayton Christensen “Innovator’s Dilemma” disruption narrative goes something like this:
- Market leaders have many advantages, including top technology.
- Followers come up with good technology too.
- The leaders stay ahead by making their products ever better and more complex.
- The followers sell into new or non-mainstream markets, at prices the leaders can’t match. So they dominate new markets.
- Old markets turn into low-margin commodity-fests.
- Old leaders are screwed.
And it’s really hard for market leaders to avert this sad fate, because the short- and intermediate-term margin hit would be too great.
I think the OLTP DBMS market is ripe for that kind of disruption – riper than commentators generally realize. Here are some key potential drivers:
- Top-end database management systems have features unnecessary for the rest of the market. Most notably, a lot of the top-end features revolve around clustering. (This applies both to DBMSs themselves, and also to the not-all-that-scalable Windows operating system on which SQL Server depends.) But single boxes are powerful enough for many OLTP uses, notwithstanding the importance of massive parallelism on the data warehouse side.
- Top-end database management systems have high costs. Oracle administrative TCO is notoriously high. And Oracle’s maintenance costs are ripe for undercutting as well.
- Top-end DBMS leaders don’t dominate the mid-market. Yes, Oracle and Microsoft are mid-market leaders. But Progress and to some extent Intersystems have strong VAR presences, focused on the mid-market. And MySQL is used at tons of web sites.
- As I already noted, the mid-market has different distribution channels than the top end.
- Low-end/open-source database management systems are getting better. The jury is still out on MySQL Version 5, but it should prove much better than Version 4. And don’t overlook PostgreSQL-based EnterpriseDB.
- (More of a long shot.) There are a variety of new(ish) architectural approaches. XML DBMS. ANTs’ lockless RDBMS. Intersystems’ OODBMS. Frankly, I don’t think any of these will greatly upset the RDBMS applecart – but I’ve been wrong before.
- The existing order in analytic DBMS is under fierce attack. It’s becoming ever more widely accepted that Oracle and Microsoft don’t have the best products for data warehouses. Eventually, this could undermine their mystique in the OLTP space as well.