Microsoft has released the first 64-bit version of SQL Server in the hope of gaining a broader segment of the database market, although analysts have said it has not yet matched the high-end capabilities of market leaders IBM and Oracle.
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SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit) offers faster performance and the ability to support more concurrent users than did previous versions of the product, said Sheryl Tullis, a product manager for SQL Server. It will provide customers with an alternative to products from IBM and Oracle, which have offered 64-bit databases for years, she added.
The 64-bit will be priced the same as the 32-bit version, to encourage customers to upgrade and also to undercut its rivals on price.
The product should appeal to organisations that are consolidating multiple databases into a single system in order to cut costs, who are building data warehouses and who are deploying large-scale ERP and CRM systems, Tullis said.
"What we offer is going to be half the cost of a Unix project. I don't expect people to rip out all their existing systems, but if they're doing new projects I think they'll see Microsoft as really attractive," she said.
The 64-bit database allows Microsoft to address "a large portion of the sweet spot of the database market", said Betsy Burton, an analyst with Gartner.
"Think about the average database; it's typically a few hundred concurrent users and a few hundred [gigabytes] of data. That's the mass market, where Oracle is trying to compete better [by offering its database on Linux], and where Microsoft is trying to move up with 64-bit SQL Server. More and more, there are comparisons to be made between the two," she said.
However, for businesses building very large data warehouses or for those that need the very highest levels of availability, such as banks and busy e-commerce websites, Oracle9i and IBM's DB2 are still likely to be more suitable products, she said.
"The 64-bit release incrementally helps SQL Server gain credibility and support a broader set of applications, but still, for the cream-of-the-crop high-end data warehousing and high-end OLTP (on-line transaction processing) applications, the market is still dominated by IBM and Oracle," Burton said.
Microsoft has yet to equal Oracle's Real Application Clusters technology, which lets businesses run a database across groups of servers for nearly continuous uptime, said Carl Olofson, an analyst with IDC. Microsoft also lags in its ability to store and manipulate XML data, where Oracle and IBM have been hard at work, analysts have said.
Microsoft's Tullis acknowledged some of the shortcomings.
"We have some room to grow in data warehousing and we're addressing that with Yukon," she said, using the codename for a future version of SQL Server that she said Microsoft will start beta testing in the first half of this year. Such beta programmes typically take 12 to 18 months to complete, although the final release date for Yukon "depends how many betas we need", she said.
Yukon will also provide new XML capabilities and be designed from the ground up to improve security, she said. The 64-bit is based on Service Pack 3 of SQL Server 2000, which means it should not be susceptible to the SQL Slammer worm that spread rapidly in January, Tullis said.
Yukon will be the database release that makes Microsoft "feature-function comparable with the higher-end offerings of the competition", IDC's Olofson said. "This [first 64-bit product] is really intended to make them comparable from a performance standpoint," he said.
The 64-bit version of SQL Server is unlikely to inspire customers to migrate away from IBM and Oracle, a process that can be risky and costly, Olofson said. Interest is likely to come from customers starting new projects, those who favour Microsoft's .net platform and those who are attracted by the lower entry cost of SQL Server compared with DB2 and Oracle9i, he said.