Guide

How to determine your SQL database through needs analysis

Taking the frustration out of picking the right SQL database: A guide to evaluating database offerings from Oracle, IBM and Microsoft.

The path to choosing the right mission-critical SQL database is paved with a wide range of choices. That's the good news. The bad news is there are also rich opportunities to choose the wrong database. Database administrators must carefully weigh the relative merits of each vendor's database technology and how each of those databases addresses the needs of their particular environment. It can be a complicated task, given the dozens of features and options available.

In this guide we take a look at the relative strengths and weaknesses in the database offerings of the Big Three: Oracle, IBM and Microsoft. We also take a look at MySQL, which could serve as a low-end, open source alternative offering to those of the Big Three. In addition, we walk through the decision-making process every database administrator must travel, starting with the proper way to conduct a needs analysis to a technical comparison of each company's products.

In this guide, readers can learn:

  • Learn how to best determine their SQL database needs.
  • Get a technical comparison of Oracle, IBM and Microsoft's SQL databases.
  • Have access to an evaluation of a low-end, open source alternative to the Big Three – MySQL.

 

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Read the other sections of this guide on SQL databases:

How to determine your SQL database through needs analysis
Breaking down the contenders in the SQL database market
 Diving deeper into the SQL database features
The MySQL open source database in the enterprise


In the world of server databases, SQL is king.

To run properly, most heavy-duty client-server and Web applications require an SQL database on the back end. For most businesses, the path to deploying a server database is paved with choices and considerations that may prove to be a new adventure for most IT administrators. It is usually up to those administrators to weigh what each vendor's server database technology has to offer and how that technology fits the needs of their particular business environment. This can prove to be a complicated task when one considers all of the advanced players in the SQL database arena and the plethora of features and options available today.

For more on SQL database vendors
Read more tips on choosing the right server hardware

Learn how some companies use Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server together

 Determining the best SQL database vendor and selecting the correct database technology is the first step into enterprise computing and constitutes the foundation for all future applications and data services. It is a task not to be taken lightly. In some cases, this first step into the world of SQL databases is dictated by a vendor's line-of-business applications. In other words, some IT managers must use the SQL solution recommended by the vendor to deploy that new application.

In such cases, it makes sense to build on that platform for future database growth and services, but many line-of-business applications today work with more than one vendor's database platform. This means IT managers are faced with choices that are defined by elements such as flexibility, scalability and performance.

While there are many players in the enterprise database market, most IT managers have to choose among three primary vendors: Microsoft with SQL Server, IBM with DB2, and Oracle with 11g. According to the Gartner Group, Oracle captured 33.8% of the database market last year, up from 31.4% the previous year. Next was IBM, maintaining a steady 30% share of database sales. A distant third with a 13.9% share was Microsoft with SQL Server, mainly because SQL Server is available only on Windows-based systems, while the products of its two archrivals cater to a variety of platforms.

Each of those vendors' products offers unique advantages and certain disadvantages, all of which change depending on the environment the database is being used in. When shopping for a database, the first order of business for IT managers is to perform a needs analysis. This is critical in making the right decision about which database best fits the business model it will be working with. A needs analysis should not only determine the immediate database needs of the business, it should also incorporate future needs, including anticipated growth, future IT projects and continuity requirements.

Several key issues must be identified and documented in building a needs assessment. Here are some sample needs analysis questions:

  • What is the driving factor behind moving to an SQL database?
    • Is it to deploy a new application?
    • Is it to build custom applications?
    • Is it to increase performance?
    • Is it to meet a continuity need?
    • Is it to build a distributed environment?
  • Which Network operating systems are in use?
  • Which desktop operating systems are in use?
  • What type of network storage is used?
  • Which network protocols are in use?
  • Which connectivity technologies are in use?
  • How many concurrent users will be served by the database?
  • Which applications will use the database?
  • What level of availability will the database need?
  • Is failover or continuity needed?
  • What type of data backup and archiving system is in use?

Once those basic questions are researched and answered, IT managers can apply those discoveries to the feature sets, capabilities and options associated with a particular database product. With that information in hand, selecting a suitable database should be a case of checking features, pricing and the platforms on which the SQL database server will run.

This was first published in November 2009

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