TCA Champ - Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server?

As platforms continue to evolve in the technology industry, a central concern for IT executives is implementing the right systems to maximize the return on each investment. Since labor costs and equivalent outsourced services dominate most IT budgets -- over 56% of IT spending on average -- selecting platforms with lower implementation and ongoing management costs can significantly improve overall IT efficiency. More importantly, since innovation is only 10% of the typical IT budget today, reducing ongoing management costs can help reallocate precious resources and budgets to more innovative tasks and projects – delivering true business value.
One of the most important infrastructure investments is a database platform. Two of the leading choices are Microsoft SQL 2005 and Oracle Database 10g. So, for those seeking to reduce overall costs and reallocate labor investments to more innovative tasks the obvious question is, "Which has the lower total cost of administration (TCA)?"

To determine the comparative TCA of these platforms, Alinean conducted independent, in-depth interviews with 100 directors of database administration and senior-level database administrators regarding their database environments, user populations and database administration activities. The results of the survey can be found at:

The results revealed that, overall, Microsoft SQL Server 2005 required significantly less effort to install and maintain than Oracle Database 10g. Study participants reported that on average a database administrator could manage over 30 Microsoft SQL Server 2005 databases, while Oracle 10g implementations required one DBA per 10 databases. On average, the annual cost for administration is $2,847 per year per database for Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and $10,206 per year per database for Oracle 10g, more than a 350% savings in annual costs per database for the Microsoft platform.

But was the study revealing a true difference in administrative costs, or just differences that could be attributed to smaller or less mission-critical Microsoft SQL Server 2005 installations? To assure similar comparisons, the study examined potential differences in the application, load and complexity of the database instances. As expected, the Oracle databases supported more users per database (2 to 1) and larger volume size (3.6 to 1) than the Microsoft databases on average. So it makes perfect sense that Oracle would be more expensive to manage on a per-database basis, but the costs were still slightly higher for Oracle than expected in comparison.
Comparing costs per user supported, we found that Microsoft SQL Server 2005 still has a TCA advantage on a per-user basis, $13.09 per user versus $18.05 per user for Oracle. However, when large-volume databases were examined, Oracle 10g had the lower TCA: $46.76 per gigabyte for Oracle 10g versus $66.58 for Microsoft SQL Server 2005.

Comparing the importance of the database environments, participants reported similar levels of business reliance on the two database platforms, somewhat surprisingly, given the greater size and user populations for the Oracle databases. Even though the majority of Oracle 10g installations were geared more toward transaction-based databases versus decision-support databases, Microsoft SQL Server 2005 actually had a slight edge in the percentage of databases classified as mission-critical.

Making the Right Decision

In this study, because of time constraints and data collection concerns with participants, we did not consider some other more detailed elements of size versus administrative costs, including number of transactions per day or number of tables. It is unclear from the prior results what the results might be in high-transaction or high-density databases.

Although maximizing IT labor productivity is a major goal of most IT organizations today, when making the purchase decision, it will be important to analyze all factors and not rely solely on TCA advantages of one platform or the other.

Lower change costs, the cost to develop new database applications or migrating existing databases can be 20% to 30% of any database project’s costs and should be a major consideration. As well, the costs for hardware platforms, software licensing, management utilities and business resilience should be tallied, since these typically consume 40% or more of any database project’s cost.

Harder to quantify are the business-value differences between the platforms, particularly which database helps to deliver better performance and service levels and which supports faster initial deployment, evolution, adaptability and agility.

Combining all of these measures, including TCA, into an overall business value assessment can help the team make the best decision.

The Bottom Line: A Split Decision?

So what do the results reveal for those trying to decide which platform to standardize on for lowest TCA? The results on lowest TCA per database or user were definitive, in that Microsoft is less expensive to administer -- but other measures like size and transaction counts can skew the results more toward Oracle – so as database size, complexity and workload grows, the results begin to even out. And for the largest databases, Oracle appears to be slightly less expensive to administer.

The bottom line: When looking at larger databases where overall size and scalability is the critical factor, Oracle Database 10g appears to takes the lower TCA prize. But where databases are of reasonable size and/or where there are more databases and database users to manage, not unexpectedly Microsoft SQL Server 2005 has the TCA advantage.


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