The Current State of Oracle vs SQL Server Database

May 05, 2016

As consultants, we’re often asked for high-level strategic advice on data platforms. By providing leadership through technology and service, we can take an objective look at many aspects of a corporate IT environment and provide both the thought and execution for our clients’ decision makers.

I'm a career Microsoft SQL Server DBA and my bias shouldn’t be unstated, but there’s a lot of fresh information that your decision making engine may not be up to date on especially if your Oracle presence has roots in 20th century purchasing decisions.

At Sparkhound, we’ve had both the “we spend too much money on Oracle not to use it”and the “we spend too much money to not think about an alternative” conversations with our clients. While we’ve certainly developed integration packages and reporting that joins Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle data sources, it’s actually pretty rare that we see Oracle as an ongoing future concern. We’re involved with a lot of Oracle platforms that are nearing sunset.

This blog post is my attempt to summarize 4 strong arguments in place to adopt Microsoft SQL Server instead of Oracle, using all the latest information, including the latest Microsoft incentives to migrate to SQL Server.


1. Pricing Structure

SQL Server has always licensed its ecosystem in a single bill. In addition to the database, there’s no add-on cost for Integration Services (world-class ETL tool), Reporting Services (standard in tabular web-based reporting with built-in web service and management site), Analysis Services (a market-leader in OLAP since SQL 2000), and all the developer tooling needed are free downloads.

Additionally, features inside the database engine, such as clustering, table partitioning, compression, all forms of encryption, and failsafe auditing are included in the Enterprise license, and are not line items on a price sheet. SQL Server ships with a rich and powerful ecosystem for integration, business intelligence, automation and custom development tools. The free Visual Studio-based dev tools are familiar to your .NET development staff and DBAs alike – no need for 3rd party tool purchases in the Microsoft ecosystem.

Frequently, I remind clients, “Why not use SQL Server Reporting Services/Integration Services/Analysis Services? You already own it.” Pleasantly surprised, a purchasing decision gets pushed aside and development begins quickly.

And yes, Microsoft SQL Server continues to be a fraction of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a similar Oracle architecture. Common options for Oracle DB EE configured on standard commodity hardware can approach half a million in annual licensing. A four-core SQL Server Enterprise edition is likely in the $40,000 range, about 1/10th the cost. This isn’t a quote – contact your licensing reseller for complete information.

Enterprise Security That Doesn’t Break the Bank SQL Server Enterprise is packed with features that are required of military and government-level infrastructure, from the SQL Audit (with ability to shut down the SQL Server if tampered with), to file-at-rest Transparent Data Encryption (TDE). Both of those features sell themselves. Row and column-level encryption plus row-level security can keep data encrypted even from database administrators and developers in the production system. The encrypted data is fully compatible with existing database and backup compression advantages, which can reduce the size of data on disk by up to 80%. (It depends on the data stored, numbers compress very well, unicode text not so much.) All of the features are available in Oracle as an add-on “Advanced Security” package, and according to Oracle’s April 2016 price sheet, at an additional $15,000 per processor license. That add-on alone is more than the typical retail cost of a two-core SQL Server Enterprise license.

Opportunities for Legacy Oracle Users to “Break Free” Further lowering the price for Oracle conversions, announced in March 2016 was a program to give Oracle converters “free” SQL Server licenses with the purchase of Microsoft’s annual Software Assurance agreement, which is roughly 25% of the cost of a full SQL Server license. This is a major attractor and opportunity to enterprise environments looking to migrate.  

2. Personnel Development

According to 2016 data from, SQL Database Administrators and Senior SQL Database Professionals cost 4-8% less than similar Oracle professionals, even though SQL Server skills are in higher demand for new development, and SQL Server-related job openings are more numerous.

A strong presence from the Microsoft-unaffiliated Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) is building skillsets and strong assets for DBAs in the community internationally. Local PASS User Groups and SQLSaturday events are free, community-led and community-driven events. A strong local, regional and online community supports a SQL Server network of professionals that spans the globe.

Sample assets and training resources made freely available by Microsoft are excellent learning resources and significant advantages throughout a career lifecycle. There are four times as many “SQL Server” new release books in the last 90 days than “Oracle Database” on (as of this writing). Also, are you on Twitter? Check out #SQLHelp… hundreds of messages between friendly professionals all over the world in this month. Check out #OracleHelp… two messages in 2016 (as of this writing).

SQL Server Express and LocalDB are free, portable versions of SQL Server that are upgradeable all the way up to the Enterprise editions. For developers and for companies, this makes it a reasonable option to start small and grow into Enterprise. The high quality SQL Server Data Tools for schema and data compare, migrations from a project and incremental database deployments are all free downloads from Microsoft, and no third-party paid software licenses (Toad) are necessary.

All of this contributes to the SQL Server skillset having a lower barrier to entry, lower cost for development assets, and a learning curve that is less steep than the Oracle skillset.

What is SQLSaturday? The annual SQLSaturday event in Baton Rouge (for example) draws over 600 IT Professionals to the campus of Louisiana State University to learn about the SQL Server ecosystem. Like SQLSaturday events that occur weekly all over the world, attendance, giveaways, lunch and more are all free of charge and organized by a not-for-profit community. Similar events are annual in Houston, Dallas and Birmingham, and Sparkhound has a presence at each. Aware of the benefits of this type of event, Sparkhound has been a platinum sponsor for several years. Sparkhound employees volunteer to speak at the tech sessions and lead the planning committee annually.


3. Enterprise Scale

Both systems are powerful relational and analytical platforms at the Enterprise level. In the late 1990’s, Microsoft’s SQL Server platform became tagged with a “not enterprise ready” label by some.

SQL Server 2000 changed a lot of that in reality and really penetrated the corporate market with Analysis Services, which gained momentum quickly. SQL Server 2005’s tooling improvements were a great leap forward and administrative ease and familiarity has been a real asset for Microsoft.

The Associated Press Breaking News API, bwin (the largest gambling site in Europe), the NASDAQ stock market, Cintas, LG, Yahoo!, Hilton Hotels and NASA are some of the documented enterprise-scale success stories for Microsoft SQL Server. Saying that SQL Server isn’t “Enterprise ready” just isn't accurate in this century.

PowerShell Connects All PowerShell, a ubiquitous automation and scripting tool beloved by administrators and developers across the Microsoft ecosystem, has deep roots inside SQL Server. If your sys admins and network admins are already up to speed on PowerShell, they’ll find a rich set of tools for SQL Server and Azure ready to import. At Sparkhound, we use PowerShell extensively – it is an excellent way to automate tedious or time-consuming tasks, from setting up a multi-server SharePoint farm, performing complete SQL Server maintenance plans, Active Directory migrations, cluster failovers, to Azure VM administration. 
Big Investment in Linux? Like the idea of SQL Server but living in a Linux-dominated server world? In 2017, SQL Server will be released for Linux, specifically for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu. A working demonstration on Ubuntu 15.10 was shown in March 2016. Microsoft also recently acquired a Linux R Server platform thanks to their 2015 purchase of Revolution Analytics.  

4. Strong Platform as a Service (PaaS) Co-Development

Microsoft’s Azure platform is enterprise-ready and quickly growing while offerings from Oracle (and IBM) are shedding market share. SQL’s integration into Azure goes far beyond storage or VM’s in the cloud, though those offerings are strong platforms on which Sparkhound has had considerable experience and success. Easy integration with Azure storage and SQL Server backups, SSD storage in the cloud that can dramatically increase TempDB performance, and a strong suite of site-to-site network integration are among the Azure+SQL partnerships.

Azure SQL Database is different from the traditional SQL Server implementation and is used for different types of projects, but is a fast-growing and useful platform that leverages the considerable development knowledge of SQL Server to rapidly-developed, cloud-based and scalable database for the back end to all sorts of projects, and not just mobile apps. Sparkhound has rapidly developed web-based applications for desktops leveraging SQL Azure that are highly stable and high-performing, with zero physical database infrastructure footprint at the client sites.

While Microsoft’s Azure cloud has been maturing and developing since 2010, Oracle’s Elastic Compute Cloud was announced in late October 2015 as a response to critical market loss to AWS and Azure.

Want more information about the advantages of SQL Server? Need help with the day-to-day of your SQL Server administration? Need periodic health checks to make sure everything is running smoothly? Sparkhound’s Managed SQL team of skilled, certified DBAs are eager to help.

Disclaimer: One of my two brothers, love him dearly, has developed software for a company that was acquired by Oracle in 2005. We get along great, so do our kids, and the Thanksgiving dinner table does not feature TCO and ROI arguments. : ) 

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