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'Low IT' databases: DB2 for the low IT user

Wayne Kernochan examines the 'Low-IT' database needs of what he terms 'Low-IT' users, as well as how IBM's DB2 Express is proving itself to be a highly useful alternative in the Low-IT market.

There are two primary classes of database management systems -- "Low-IT" and large enterprise -- and the most effective IT organizations understand the place of both. The past decade has shown that enterprise databases cannot effectively serve the needs of Low-IT users as well as databases designed to meet Low-IT needs. Instead, SMBs (small-to-medium-sized businesses) and their ISVs (independent software vendors) now typically use Low-IT databases for their business-critical applications, and larger organizations often complement their enterprise databases with one or more Low-IT databases at the individual, workgroup, department, local office, and even divisional level.

The last six years, since the Internet bubble collapse, have shown the durability and importance of the Low-IT market. While enterprise database vendors have seen their revenues decreasing dramatically (until recently), the SMB market has fueled a steady expansion of Low-IT vendors' revenues and profits. Put simply, not only do SMB users like Low-IT databases, Low-IT databases are now penetrating higher in larger enterprises and ISVs.

This commentary examines the needs of Low-IT users, how databases can meet these needs, and how IBM's DB2 Express is proving itself to be a highly useful alternative in the Low-IT market.

The Nature of Low-IT Users

"Low-IT" organizations are users -- both SMB (small to medium-sized business) and workgroup/department -- that aim primarily to minimize both the cost and the complexity of IT -- often to the point of demanding that their computing architecture be entirely manageable by non-technical personnel on their off hours. Moreover, these users now understand that the enterprise database that some consultants and data-center experts reflexively recommend is not appropriate for achieving Low IT -- they are by their nature too complex, too expert-intensive, and too costly (in cost of ownership terms).

A related type of user (sometimes included in the Low-IT category) is the "high-flexibility" organization. High-flexibility firms -- which can range from a workgroup to a large enterprise -- value above all the ability to innovate and upgrade rapidly, with low license costs. In order to do this, the "high-flexibility" organization seeks to tap into the rapid-development, low-cost characteristics of the open source movement. In particular, the "high-flexibility" organization uses open source databases as the core of scalable, open applications. Research by Infostructure Associates personnel shows that open-source database users form a distinct niche in the market, that these number in the tens of millions, and that open-source databases are "ready for prime time" -- that is, they are scalable, robust, and powerful enough to support many of today's large enterprise applications. Table 1 shows some of the key database characteristics that these organizations seek.

Table 1: Characteristics of key database types

Organization Type Administrative Effort Flexibility License Cost
Low-IT "Very low touch" — non-technical user can handle Medium to high — relatively easy to incorporate new technology Low to medium
High-flexibility "Medium touch" High — use open source communities and/or software Low — use open source license and some services
Large-Enterprise "High touch" — requires careful tuning for optimal performance and scalability High — use open source communities and/or software Medium to high

Low-IT and High-Flexibility Buyer Types and Criteria

Low-IT users are usually of one of three types:

  1. Local SMBs with 10-200 end users using one or a few local servers.
  2. Local workgroups or departments in larger enterprises, with 10-100 end users per workgroup using one or a few local servers.
  3. Mass-deployment architectures, with multiple workgroups in multiple localities using one local server which may feed back to a central server.

All of these are more apt to implement packaged applications from vertical ISVs rather than enterprise-packaged applications or in-house-developed ones. Mass-deployment architectures, in turn, are typically of one of two types:

  1. A centralized copy of the application and embedded database, accessed remotely by desktop and mobile clients.
  2. Multiple copies of the application and database, each at a locality, with replication-style synchronization with a central database.

High-flexibility organizations may include SMBs, workgroups/departments, ISVs, and large enterprises; but all seek to develop new, scalable applications rapidly, at low cost.

The demands of today's Low-IT and high-flexibility organization require that IT buyers place a different emphasis on Infostructure Associates' usual criteria for databases (scalability, flexibility [including open support of standards], robustness, and programmer productivity). In the Low-IT case:

  1. The Low-IT user need only scale so far, and therefore places a higher emphasis on performance (or rapid response to users) in a typical user load.
  2. By flexibility, the Low-IT user is apt to mean ease of customization and upgrade, rather than openness to a wide variety of hardware and software.
  3. By robustness, the Low-IT user is likely to mean ease of administration, preferably by non-technical personnel, rather than just staying running 7x24.
  4. Again, programmer productivity means that the ISV (independent software vendor) that delivers an application can rapidly create and deploy new versions, and the user can customize them easily, rather than the user writing the application themselves.
  5. Other key considerations are security and total cost of ownership (TCO).

The high-flexibility organization emphasizes:

  • Higher scalability than the Low-IT user.
  • Open-source support to achieve both openness to a wide variety of hardware and software and ease of new-application development.
  • High availability in Web situations.
  • Low license costs for rapid project startup.

IBM DB2 UDB Express Edition and DB2 Express-C

Buyers of DB2 UDB (the Linux/UNIX/Windows version) can choose from several editions: DB2 Personal Developer's Edition, Data Warehouse Editions (including data-warehouse administration, query management, data mining, and analytic features such as DB2 Cube Views), Universal Developer's Edition, Personal Edition, Workgroup Server Edition, Workgroup Server Unlimited Edition, Enterprise Server Edition, and DB2 UDB Express Edition (part of IBM's medium-sized business initiative, with enhanced automation of installation and administration). Express Edition is a pared-down, smaller-footprint version of DB2 UDB, but includes many of its key features, including Extenders and replication. Express-C is an open source version of Express Edition that does not include Extenders or replication. Express Edition is especially suited for Low-IT users, and Express-C, with its open-source credentials, for high-flexibility users.

Infostructure Associates interviewees give DB2 UDB Express Edition high marks for key Low-IT criteria such as ease of administration, performance in small-scale situations, programmer productivity for Java developers, and its ability to deliver DB2 UDB's security and robustness. In fact, some compare Express Edition to Pervasive Software's Pervasive.SQL in its ability to create and maintain embedded software.

Outlook for the Low-IT Market

Table 2 shows Infostructure Associates' database market revenue breakdowns by size of customer. The categories are defined as follows:

  1. High -- enterprise with more than $75 million in revenues.
  2. Medium -- $25 million to 75 million in revenues (also includes revenues from use of a database strictly at the workgroup or departmental level within a larger organization).
  3. Low -- an SMB with less than $25 million in revenues.

Low-IT users comprise most of the Low and part of the Medium category -- about 25 % of the market. We anticipate some increase in percentage of revenues from Low-IT markets over the next two years, as IBM's push into those markets with DB2 Express Edition is showing some signs of success.

Table 2: Database User Size and Market Share (of Overall Database Revenues)

Size of Database User




Market Share





No vendor -- not Oracle, nor IBM, nor Microsoft -- can dominate the database market with an enterprise database, because today's Low-IT and related high-flexibility users demand a database tuned for their needs. IBM is showing encouraging signs that it recognizes the particular needs of Low-IT users and is responding to them with services aimed at SMBs, with a solution clearly separated from its enterprise database, and with more-equal visibility for DB2 Express Edition and Express-C. These products, in turn, are demonstrating a good fit with Low-IT and high-flexibility users' needs, according to initial interviewees.

Of course, IBM is also competing with well-established vendors in the Low-IT space, ranging from Progress Software and Intersystems to Pervasive, FileMaker, and Sybase iAnywhere -- not to mention the open-source database MySQL. Facing these, IBM differentiates Express Edition and Express-C by its effective integration with enterprise databases, and especially with DB2 UDB. Thus, users who seek to leverage today's trend towards Low-IT database use across all types of enterprise should consider either DB2 UDB Express Edition or Express-C by themselves, or these products as part of a DB2 UDB-centered overall architecture.

About Infostructure Associates

Infostructure Associates is an affiliate of Valley View Ventures that aims to provide thought leadership and sound advice to both vendors and users of information technology. This document is the result of Infostructure Associates sponsored research. Infostructure Associates believes that its findings are objective and represent the best analysis available at the time of publication.

This document is subject to copyright. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any method whatsoever without the prior written consent of Infostructure Associates. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. While every care has been taken during the preparation of this document to ensure accurate information, the publishers cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions.

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