January 22, 2008

What leading DBMS vendors don’t want you to realize

For very high-end applications, the list of viable database management systems is short. Scalability can be a problem. (The rankings of most scalable alternatives differ in the OLTP and data warehouse realms.) Extreme levels of security can be had from only a few DBMS. (Oracle would have you believe there’s only one choice.) And if you truly need 99.99% uptime, there only are a few DBMS you even should consider.

But for most applications at any enterprise – and for all applications at most enterprises – super high-end DBMS aren’t required. There are relatively few applications that wouldn’t run perfectly well on PostgreSQL or EnterpriseDB today. Ingres and Progress OpenEdge aren’t far behind (they’re a little lacking in datatype support). Ditto Intersystems Cache’, although the nonrelational architecture will be off-putting to many. And to varying degrees, you can also do fine with MySQL, Pervasive PSQL, MaxDB, or a variety of other products – or for that matter with the cheap or free crippled versions of Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, and Informix.

What’s more, these mid-range database management systems can have significant advantages over their high-end brethren. The biggest is often price, for licenses and maintenance alike. Beyond that, they can be much easier to administer then their more complex counterparts. For example, Progress OpenEdge and Informix SE have long been reseller favorites, in large part because they can be installed at small businesses and locations that lack technical staff, and rarely if ever require DBA attention. Programming and hardware costs can sometimes be lower as well.

And what these mid-range DBMS don’t do today, they likely will do soon. In the 1990s, Microsoft SQL Server was the mid-range entry threatening to disrupt the market. But it’s grown up quite nicely. EnterpriseDB is equal or superior in every way I can think of to Oracle7, a few security certifications perhaps excepted. (They’d probably argue the release number in that claim should be 1 or 2 higher, but I’d have to compare their multimedia support to what I recall of Oracle 8.1.5 before I agreed.)

Will these mid-range database management systems truly “disrupt” the DBMS market, as many open source advocates hope? Or will they be largely co-opted into the oligopoly, as Microsoft SQL Server was? That’s a discussion for another time. For now, please just keep your mind open to DBMS alternatives – the high-end approach is not always the best.

EDIT: For a contrary view, please see my follow-up post making the opposite case.


18 Responses to “What leading DBMS vendors don’t want you to realize”

  1. Daniel Lemire on January 22nd, 2008 9:16 am

    It takes some courage, maybe, to write such a post when apparently, you are making a living off companies providing high-end solutions.

  2. Who should be buying expensive commercial database systems? on January 22nd, 2008 9:49 am

    […] According to Curt Monash, few people should be buying high-end Database management system: There are relatively few applications that wouldn’t run perfectly well on PostgreSQL or EnterpriseDB today. (…) […]

  3. Dan on January 22nd, 2008 12:46 pm

    And what about those that do require the out and out raw high end performance that can only be gained from oracle? Will the mid-range dbms catch up, or is that market too niche?

  4. Curt Monash on January 22nd, 2008 5:34 pm

    I do my best to call ’em as I see ’em. Never mind taking money; we all rely on companies just for info, and are a bit tactful and/or protective of their secrets for that reason alone.

    As for whether I think the high end systems will be totally wiped out — no way. Or at least, not for a very long time. I just see most NEW applications as being ones for which high-end systems aren’t needed.


  5. David Holoboff on January 22nd, 2008 6:05 pm

    Think of the reasons behind high end performance in Oracle DBMS, and check those against the mid-range DBMS’s today and you will be able to determine effectively what you need.

    Take partitioning for example: Without partitioning, Oracle would be crawling with a few of the tables we had. However, the world was significantly altered with partitioning in place. Same will go for other DBMS’s when they offer partioning (along with simplified maintenance).

    When mid-range DBMS’s continue to offer more of these reasons behind high end performance, then the need for the high-roller solution will continue to diminish.

  6. Curt Monash on January 22nd, 2008 11:38 pm


    You’re making me feel old. 🙂 The partitioning wars — static vs. dynamic — were huge in the first half of the 1990s. In those pre-web days, I consumed a LOT of ink writing about them.


  7. Bob Zurek on January 24th, 2008 9:07 am

    Let’s keep in mind that most of the big dbms players have to deal with very complex and time consuming internal processes as they pursue a new release schedule. These schedules are frequently extended due to these complexities and also get extended because of what I call “feature wars” that go on inside the big software company, especially those companies that also sell applications that best run on their own database. Conflict is created because the application teams want certain features (remember the row locking versus page locking wars of the past?) while the product managers, competitive intelligence, customers and even sales/marketing teams want their “favorite features” to respond to innovation requests, customer requests and competitive pressures. It’s a tough cycle that many software companies experience as they become big, bloated and very complex. This on top of the never ending push to get a release out the door for revenue recognition and upgrade revenue desires. A much different cycle takes place on open source projects and that can be a huge benefit to someone who takes advantage of an industrial strength proven OLTP database like EnterpriseDB and PostgreSQL. How long did it take to get some of the big database vendors releases out the door. How many of the 100’s of new features in the big database vendors product are really taken advantage of for what might be a complex upgrade process? Oh, and if you are going to go thru an upgrade or thru the process of creating a new app that requires a database, why wouldn’t you try an open source database like EnterpriseDB or PostgreSQL?

  8. Daniel Weinreb on January 24th, 2008 9:41 am

    Even Oracle is starting to realize that many applications don’t need the full power and cost of Oracle Database, as I think we can see from their acquisitions of SleepyCat and TimesTen.

    What’s happening to Oracle in databases is the same thing that has been happening to BEA Systems (WebLogic) in J2EE application servers. New entrants, many of them open software, are getting better and better, and doing more and more of the things that the high-end products can do. The high-end products are forced into a smaller segment of the market. It’ll be a long time before BEA is gone — lots of companies currently depend on BEA’s software and extremely reluctant to switch — but growth in WebLogic Server itself is clearly a big problem.

    I feel like the same thing happened to InterLeaf, many years back, as FrameMaker started to push up the ladder, and then Microsoft Word and Publisher started pushing up FrameMaker’s ladder.

    Getting forced up into the high end, where you have to provide lots of fancy and esoteric (read: hard to develop and hard to Q/A) features and high performance and such, but you can only sell it to many fewer customers, is not a nice place for a software vendor to be in, especially if they can’t raise prices easily.

  9. Curt Monash on January 24th, 2008 3:39 pm


    That’s the classic Clayton Christenson “disruption” narrative, as applied to software. I summarized it in six bullet points in http://www.dbms2.com/2007/02/27/oltp-database-management-system-disruption/ 🙂



  10. Curt Monash on January 24th, 2008 3:40 pm


    So are you arguing that everybody is delusional about these new features? Or are they indeed useful for somebody? 😉



  11. Log Buffer #81: a Carnival of the Vanities for DBAs on January 25th, 2008 1:52 pm

    […] Monash of the DBMS2 blog tells what leading DBMS vendors don’t want you to realize: “For most applications at any enterprise – and for all applications at most enterprises […]

  12. lux on January 28th, 2008 6:30 pm


    Would you categorize 4D as a mid-range DB? If not, why not?

  13. Curt Monash on January 28th, 2008 6:50 pm


    Sorry, but I wouldn’t know. Unless it’s changed names over the years, this is the first I’ve ever heard of 4D.


  14. DBMS2 — DataBase Management System Services » Blog Archive » Naming the DBMS disruptors on April 25th, 2008 12:04 am

    […] Edit: This post has largely been superseded by this more recent one defining mid-range relational DBMS. […]

  15. Fazal Majid on June 12th, 2008 11:08 pm

    4D was a popular DBMS for the Mac Classic platform, mostly because it had excellent UI design tools. A midrange database it is definitely not, more in the class of FoxPro or Microsoft Access fronting for MSDE.

  16. Infology.Ru » Blog Archive » То, что вам не следует знать по мнению ведущих поставщиков СУБД on September 15th, 2008 2:28 am

    […] Автор: Curt Monash Дата публикации оригинала: 2008-01-22 Перевод: Олег Кузьменко Источник: Блог Курта Монаша […]

  17. 14 reasons not to use MySQL or other mid-range database management systems | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on March 18th, 2014 12:08 am

    […] may argue for the use of open source and other mid-range database management systems, but a lot of industry sentiment remains on the other side. Vendors of high-end RDBMS naturally […]

  18. David Eddy on May 21st, 2016 5:31 am

    4D was initially 4th Dimension in mid 1980s.

    Mid 1990s it grew to cross platform (Mac & Windows).

    It too has grown up. Today (May 2016) able to support 500+ clients on appropriately muscular server.

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