Is SQL Server 2005 Worth the Cost?

Is SQL Server 2005—even with significantly improved OLAP, ETL, and reporting features—worth the cost?

When Microsoft Corp. first bundled OLAP and ETL functionality with SQL Server 7.0, the software giant positioned these business intelligence (BI) add-ons as icing on the cake: Buy SQL Server and you get the BI tools for free.

This has never been quite true, of course: SQL Server 7.0 cost more than its predecessor, SQL Server 6.5, just as SQL Server 2000 cost more when it shipped than SQL Server 7.0. Now that Microsoft has disclosed pricing information for its upcoming SQL Server 2005 database, that trend will continue, with the price of the standard edition of SQL Server up by 20 percent, and SQL Server Enterprise Edition getting a 25 percent increase. (Both figures are based on per-processor licensing.)

The big question for many users, of course, is how much is too much? If SQL Server 2000, with its integrated OLAP, ETL, and reporting capabilities, was a good buy at $5,000 per processor, is SQL Server 2005—even with significantly improved OLAP, ETL, and reporting features—worth $6,000 a processor?

The answer, users say, is a somewhat begrudging “Yes.” Jeffrey Shain is a SQL programmer with a prominent media and entertainment Web site. Shain says he doesn’t know how his company’s bean counters will respond to the SQL Server price hike, but agrees that if the value’s there, they’ll almost certainly approve the upgrade. “As a matter of common sense, I doubt any customer with shallow pockets will respond to the price increase favorably,” he says. “That being said, if the new features allow [them] to expand [or] grow [their] business, I don't see a problem. The upgrade must present a significant value to the client.”

Microsoft isn’t the only vendor that bundles BI tools with its relational database offering. Oracle Corp., for example, quickly followed Microsoft’s lead, and has since incorporated ETL, OLAP, and other features into its flagship (Oracle 10g) database offering. IBM Corp., too, has built extra-relational capabilities into its DB2 UDB product.

Nevertheless, Microsoft believes it has other value differentiators up its sleeve. In addition to SQL Server’s integrated BI stack, for example, officials argue that Microsoft’s database is cheaper than the competition—chiefly, IBM and Oracle—particularly in the case of multi-core chips. For example, says Tom Rizzo, director of product management for SQL Server, both IBM and Oracle require customers to purchase separate licenses to run their databases on multi-core chips, such that a customer deploying Oracle on a server with two discrete chips, each with two processor cores, must purchase a four-processor license. Microsoft requires that customers only purchase a two-processor license.

With Intel Corp. slated to ship dual-core processors this year, and with four-core processors clearly within the lifecycle of SQL Server 2005, this could translate into a not-insignificant cost savings for many customers.

Tom Groszko, a veteran SQL programmer and administrator recently downsized out of a job, says that although database expenses are typically a big factor when selecting a relational platform, there’s a somewhat different calculus at work for companies already entrenched with a particular database.

“A decision to change the database is almost impossible,” he says, noting that—in cases where a bigger price tag precludes an upgrade—many companies will simply put off the upgrade rather than transition to a new platform.

SQL programmer Shain says there’s a lot to like in Microsoft’s SQL Server. For this reason, he believes, most organizations will take the price hike in stride. “I've toyed with a number of database platforms over the last several years and found SQL Server to be the one platform which best served my needs in terms of reliability, performance and cost,” he concludes, stressing that “of course, this is not the experience of every software developer.”

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About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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