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Can Oracle be unseated as a top SAP database?

SAP would love to change the fact that the Oracle database is highly used among its customers, explains Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

A recent analyst report out of the UK highlights that not-so-hidden secret about enterprise software: significant portions of the functionality of many implementations are underutilized (read the report here). Surprised? You shouldn't be: significant portions of every piece of software basically lie fallow. Excessive, unused features, many would say, are part of the price of using enterprise software.

When it comes to the database that runs SAP, the one with the best database technology doesn't have to be the winner.
Joshua Greenbaum
principal analystEnterprise Applications Consulting

But does it have to be that way?

When it comes to the database that powers your SAP implementation, there's a lot of players interested in challenging that notion, particularly when it comes to the Oracle database you're probably running. SAP is surely interested: in the no-holds-barred competition between the two enterprise software giants, the irksome fact that the Oracle database is behind a significant number of SAP implementations is something SAP would love to change.

One of the other companies interested in usurping the Oracle database is a newly-minted challenger, Ingres Corp. Okay, not so newly-minted: For those who don't recognize the name, the Ingres database was one of the original challengers to Oracle, back in the heyday of the relational database wars of the 1980s. Arguably one of the technologically best databases of its time, Ingres fell behind the Oracle marketing juggernaut and was eventually acquired, first by ERP pioneer ASK and then by everyone's favorite software repo-man, Computer Associates.

CA recently spun Ingres out to a private equity firm run by Terry Garnett, an ex-Oracle executive, industry veteran, and VC. Terry believes that Ingres can present an alternative – in terms of cost and complexity – to SAP and other ERP customers that don't need the latest and greatest bells and whistles from Oracle. The price point that Ingres is shooting for is somewhere between one-half to one-third of the overall cost of an Oracle database, something that ought to at least catch the attention of SAP and its customers.

If companies like Ingres succeed, in the end there will not be any single, dominant database for SAP: not Oracle, not Ingres, not DB2, not SQL Server. Which is exactly what SAP would like to see. Too much dependence on a rival like Oracle makes SAP terribly nervous about its account control. Seeing that control split amongst a host of companies is exactly the divide-and-conquer strategy SAP would like to see in its battle royale against Oracle. When it comes to the database that runs SAP, the one with the best database technology doesn't have to be the winner.

Joshua Greenbaum is a market research analyst and consultant at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

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