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Is Ingres a viable alternative to Oracle for SAP users?

Database pros responding to a recent column express serious reservations about one venture capitalist's plan to market open source Ingres to SAP users.

Database professionals don't think much of one venture capitalist's plan to market the open source Ingres database management system to SAP users who may not want to pay for all of Oracle's "bells and whistles."

Responding to a recent column that looked at the Computer Associates (CA) decision to spin off Ingres to ex-Oracle executive Terry Garnett's venture capitalist firm, database administrators (DBAs) said the notion that an open source system could one day unseat Oracle as the number-one back end for SAP enterprise resource planning software is impractical at best.

The column, written by Enterprise Applications Consulting principal Joshua Greenbaum, discussed the fact that major applications vendors like Oracle provide a great deal of high-end functionality that many customers don't need. It went on to say that Oracle rival SAP would love it if those same customers started looking to alternative databases such as Ingres.

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Richard Goulet, a senior Oracle DBA with a New England-area power components manufacturer, said he feels that if CA couldn't make a go of it with Ingres, Garnett probably won't do much better.

"To me, they washed their hands of it and now somebody else is trying to pick it up," Goulet said. "[Ingres] needs some serious overhauling and some new functionality. Just bringing the technology up to date is going to take a few years."

Despite his reservations about the practicality of SAP-on-Ingres, Goulet said he can see why some companies may not want to pay for all that Oracle has to offer.

"Oracle has created the Cadillac of the database world," he said. "It has also got the platinum price tag of the database world, so I can understand why it's probably not everybody's favorite choice."

Darrell Murphy, a customer advocate with Ringmaster Software Inc. and a former DBA at an SAP-on-Oracle shop, said convincing users to undertake the expense of migrating from Oracle to Ingres would be a very tough sell because, for one thing, Ingres is not currently certified for SAP.

Murphy added that the money SAP would likely charge for consulting fees would make such a migration unappealing to most.

"If someone is going to pay money for consulting to swap a database, they're going to have to be really sure, and then they'll have to go through the pain of it," Murphy said.

Murphy also said that he believes Garnett might find some limited success if he markets Ingres to brand new companies that don't already have an investment in Oracle.

The author of the column, Greenbaum, said he wasn't advocating a switch to Ingres for SAP users. Rather, he said, the column was meant to shine a light on the issue of unused functionality and how some in the IT world hope to capitalize on it.

Greenbaum said the costs and risks associated with migrating to Ingres -- or even an SAP-supported database like IBM DB2 -- are simply too high.

"You can swap, but the better thing to do is use the threat of swapping as leverage for getting a better deal," Greenbaum said. "That's what keeps the vendors honest and competing against one another."

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