A Benchmark Battle Broadens

Larry Ellison offered $1 million to anyone who could run Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server 7.0 at a rate 1 percent as fast as an Oracle Corp. database on a single benchmark query.

Between his verbal jabs against Microsoft during a November speech at Fall Comdex, when he made the challenge, the Oracle CEO offered an aside on IBM Corp.’s flagship database, calling DB2 "a very good product."

Now it seems the peripheral IBM, which trails the other two vendors markedly in database sales on Windows NT, did something interesting. IBM beat Oracle’s Unix-run benchmark with DB2 on Windows NT in a 32-node configuration.

Oracle’s challenge required a run of the Transaction Processing Council’s (www.tpc.org) TPC-D Query No. 5 on 1 terabyte of data in less than two hours, about 100 times the 71 seconds it took Oracle to run the query. IBM says its DB2 Universal Database dispatched the query in less than a second.

Oracle released its results in early November. Its $9.7 million, 64-processor system ran on Sun Solaris 2.6 and Starfire Enterprise 10000 hardware. IBM released results from its $6.1 million, 128-processor system in January. Microsoft, which claimed to be working on the challenge, has not released results on SQL Server yet.

The Leaders of the Terabyte Test

VendorDatabaseServerSystem CostCPU# of CPU's
IBMDB2 UDB 5.2Netfinity 7000 M10$6.1 MillionIntel PII 450 MHz128
OracleOracle8.1.5Starfire Enterprise 10000$9.7 MillionSun UltraSPARC 336MHz64

The Oracle challenge appears to be intended to skewer Microsoft’s suggestion that SQL Server 7.0, released in November, is ready for the highest end of database applications. But the Oracle-SQL Server 7.0 debate is as much about platform as database architecture. Oracle takes advantage of the more mature Unix platform; SQL Server runs only in Windows.

Like many analysts, Al Hilwa of GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com) typically ignores benchmark results, which he views as hype.

Hilwa attaches little importance to IBM’s achieving the results on Windows NT while Oracle, which can run on Windows NT, chose to hurl its challenge from a Unix test run. "Oracle presents [its] Unix ports of Oracle as a feature," Hilwa says. "Even if you buy Oracle on NT, the fact that Oracle on Unix is there is a feature of the product."

Although SQL Server doesn’t support scalability clusters and probably won’t for another two years, according to Hilwa, the benchmark is, in essence, meaningless. Only a handful of implementations worldwide have use for a query as massive as the benchmark.

"The crucial question is, with all its limitations, how far can NT reach up that percentage of application requirements that people have? The answer is quite far," Hilwa says. "It’s going to meet the requirements of a surprisingly large number of people out there, with all its flaws."