Tony Bain

Building products & teams that leverage data, analytics, AI & automation to do amazing things

SQL Server on Linux is not an Oracle killer – but it is a great buffet dish

May 05, 2016 | Tony Bain

The planned SQL Server for Linux product was been announced a few months back.  While this isn't due until 2017, I have read numerous commentaries and thoughts on why Microsoft is doing this.  Several of these are suggesting this somehow will cause a mass migration of Oracle DB customers to SQL Server.  This prediction is silly and shows a lack of understanding about how enterprises select their database platforms.  SQL Server is a great product but Oracle DB is also a great product. I have no doubt that the majority of customers running it today either want to be running it or need to be running it as it supports the applications they are running, providing the operational objectives they have at a cost they can justify.  Just in the same way that Microsoft SQL Server customers do.

So what is SQL Server on Linux about then?  To me, it is more about breaking the perception that SQL Server should only be considered as part of a solution if you are using a full Microsoft stack.  One of the problems with enterprise software has been, in the past, heavily orientated towards buying into that vendor’s vision.  It has been analogous to dining on a set menu at a fancy restaurant.  You had the ability to choose the restaurant, but the courses are largely pre-determined by the restaurant. 

This reminds me of once when I was in Lyon (France).  Lyon is well known for its culinary excellence and as such I invited a group of industry colleagues out for dinner at a Michelin three star restaurant to enjoy the best of Lyon had to offer (actually it was me, a data entrepreneur, a senior exec of Greenplum and a Harvard professor).  When we arrived we found there was no menu, we would be served what the restaurant served.  As it turned out, one of my guests was vegetarian which was met with some disgust by the staff and he was told, in a fabulously French way, that he would have to wait until the cheese course to eat!

Anyway the point of the analogy was that, we chose the restaurant, we bought into the stack and each layer/course was what than vendor decided to provide.  While it met most of our needs one of our party wanting to do something different wasn't well accommodated – and I can give you assurances he would not be returning to that restaurant! 

One of the way the cloud changes things is that customers have much more freedom to combine the most suitable offerings from across the IT landscape into customised solutions within a common environment. At the risk of extending the analogy to a ridiculous level, the cloud can been seen as a technology buffet.  Cloud vendors are presenting their offerings and offerings from others, but the customer is free to select and pair whatever they want with whatever else they want.  You want bacon and foie gras, no problem!  You just want scalability with a massive plate of fries, go for it!  You want SQL Server feeding into Spark, enjoy.  The cloud is about freedom of choice.  Vendors wishing to maintain relevance need to be embracing the freedom of choice.  Vendors are starting to realise they may not win at every layer, but having independent options prevents them automatically loosing at every layer.

To me, SQL Server on Linux is Microsoft breaking the perception of a stack dependency and making the use of SQL Server a much more independent decision.  SQL Server is a leading edge database product and the SQL Server on Linux release gives it the ability to win in solutions where other parts of the Microsoft stack, including Windows don’t.  And importantly, it is just further evidence that Microsoft is backing its strategy to win in the cloud by maintaining relevance.