IBM could release a free version of its DB2 database next year, according to a company executive.
Teo Wan Ping, IBM Singapore's brand manager for information management, told ZDNet Asia that IBM could "potentially offer" a free starter edition of DB2, as part of the company's strategy to win over developers to its database product.
IBM currently does not have a free, standalone version of its DB2 product, unlike free competing products like Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 Express Edition and Oracle's Database XE released recently.
Although IBM's existing entry-level DB2 database — the DB2 Universal Database Express Edition — is not free, Teo pointed out that IBM already has a free product in its veins: the Java-based Cloudscape database, which the company contributed to the open source community last year. Also, earlier this year IBM released a package called Zend Core for IBM, a PHP development package which includes a free DB2 license.
While Teo acknowledged that the database engine used by Cloudscape is different from the one used by DB2, businesses can migrate to the DB2 easily, he asserted.
Commenting on IBM's impending move, Gartner vice-president Donald Feinberg told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview that it is just a matter of time before IBM releases a free version of DB2.
Like rivals Microsoft and Oracle, IBM would want to boost its footprint in the database market, as open source databases like MySQL gain traction, especially among developers with small and midsize businesses, he noted.
With more than 1 million downloads recorded so far for MySQL 5.0, Feinberg noted, database vendors are putting the open source rival on their radars. "Although there are people using MySQL for 'religious' reasons, my guess is at least half of them do so because it [doesn't cost anything]," he said.
Feinberg added that the "free" lure of MySQL is attractive to developers with small and midsize businesses, compared to paying for a proprietary database used in development work. "A small [proprietary] database with a single CPU licence would cost more than $2,000. It's still a lot of money."
Teo, however, pointed out that the cost of acquiring a database product should not overshadow the cost of maintaining one. "It could be the cost of personnel [to administer the database], or the cost of ongoing support from vendors."
In any IT project, the software acquisition costs make up about 10 percent of the total implementation costs, he noted. "The cost of maintenance is always neglected by most organizations," he pointed out.
Teo added that while it may be easy for vendors to scale down their databases and put out an Express edition quickly, they should also include features in entry-level products that address the needs of the target audience, such as small and midsize businesses with limited IT manpower.
"It should be easy to use, with simple user interfaces and management tools — these are the things to consider in an Express Edition product," Teo said.
According to Gartner, Oracle led last year's relational database market with 34.1 percent share, followed by IBM and Microsoft with 33.7 percent and 20 percent respectively.