The Era of Microsoft on Windows-Only Is Over – OMG

Written by Donald Feinberg and Merv Adrian

On 25-Sep-2017 at Ignite, Microsoft announced general availability of SQL Server 2017, now supporting both Windows and Linux platforms, as well as support for containers. It can now book revenue for a product already widely used by early release customers.

What does this imply for the $34.4 billion database management system (DBMS) Market? Over the years, Microsoft has grown SQL Server revenue substantially, capturing over 20 percent of the DBMS market without a Linux offering. Few thought we would see the day where a major Microsoft software product would run on anything other than Windows.

Microsoft SQL Server started life as Sybase SQL Server. In 1988, Microsoft acquired joint rights on x86 and called it SQL Server. In 1993, the partnership was dissolved and Microsoft retained SQL Server and developed it independently of Sybase, running on x86 and Windows OS. SAP ASE, formerly Sybase ASE, (Sybase was acquired by SAP in 2010) shares the procedural language Transact-SQL (T-SQL) with SQL Server.

Linux support has been a long time in coming. Both of us were in (separate) meetings at Microsoft 10 or 12 years ago, where we suggested that SQL Server be ported to Linux. The notion was met by the senior management of the then Server & Tools Group (STG) with strong disagreement (and several “expletives deleted.”). Our premise then – and still – was that this would position SQL Server as a portable DBMS, boosting sales, offering more addressable market to compete in. Customers would know they could move to Linux if desired, removing the notion of lock-in to the Windows Server OS.

Today, SQL Server runs on Windows and Linux – and containers (Docker and Kubernetes), putting it on an equal footing with other DBMS products. It supports Availability Groups that span both OSs, enhancing cross-OS testing and migration projects. Microsoft claims over 2 million Docker pulls of SQL Server 2017 for Linux since November 2016. With the generally lower pricing of SQL Server, including availability on-premises with a subscription instead of a license + maintenance, as well as pricing and discount programs including a joint marketing program with Red Hat (see Microsoft’s press release), we expect increased competition with other relational DBMS players, like IBM Db2Oracle and SAP ASE.

The momentum is clear. Gartner Software Market numbers show that Microsoft passed IBM in total DBMS revenues in 2014 and is now second only to Oracle. In 2016 overall DBMS revenues grew at 7.7 percent and Microsoft grew at 10.3 percent, strengthening its #2 position, while Oracle grew 3.3 percent – off a much larger base that includes the Linux workloads Microsoft did not compete for. With a competitively priced product that is now portable across more than one operating system, Microsoft SQL Server is positioned to gain even more market share. To further support this, SQL Server on-premises is now fully compatible to Azure SQL Database, allowing customers full flexibility in choosing the desired platform, using on-premises SQL Server licenses for Azure deployments. Its on-premises subscription pricing positions it competitively with open-source RDBMS products, with no upfront license fees. In the year ahead, competition will be more heated than is has been for years.

About Merv Adrian
Gartner Research VP, technology analyst and consultant, 30 years of industry experience, covering software mostly, hardware sometimes.

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