Should the database market be interesting?

Most enterprises use a mix of operating systems, but there is usually only one database structure at the center of an enterprise's operations. So when someone says the database market is becoming "interesting," database managers reach for the Tums.

The pending purchase of Sun, and thus mySQL, by Oracle is bringing yet another round of uncertainty to those who manage databases.

"The database market just became even more interesting," writes our own Matt Asay, and I can't disagree. But for corporate managers "interesting" is, when it comes to databases, another word for aggravating.

A database is not like any other application. Its structure makes it more like that of an operating system. Ask anyone who has ever had to switch their underlying database system. They will tell you.

This is why so many enterprise buyers are willing to pay the "Oracle Tax." They are more willing to pay this monopoly rent than the "Microsoft Tax." Most enterprises use a mix of operating systems, but there is usually only one database structure at the center of operations.

So when someone says the database market is becoming "interesting," database managers reach for the Tums. (Available online at Drugstore.Com, from which the picture was taken.)

Oracle's acquisition strategy of this decade is based on that reality. Its customers may have to pay big bucks for their licenses, but they haven't had the conversion headaches of rivals who chose to save money.

While it is nice that IBM is supporting Enterprise DB, this doesn't fully mask the pain database managers fear now. A choice between IBM and Oracle is more like one between Coke and Pepsi than one between, say, Adobe and The Gimp. Or Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org.

EnterpriseDB or Ingres may appear to offer an alternative to the "Oracle Tax," but if Ingres grows who is to say Oracle won't just buy them? They bought mySQL, didn't they?

This question is not an academic one. It holds big implications for business generally.

Fact is just about every business of any scale relies upon databases, and database applications, for its existance. Small businesses need low-cost databases in order to get into the game, but in the Internet age they can be forced to scale quite quickly.

Making the "Oracle Tax" the price of corporate ambition is going to do more to limit the number of ambitious players than anything the Obama Administration might do.