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Only Online: Three Rounds with Microsoft’s Paul Flessner

ENT’s Alicia Costanza recently caught up with Paul Flessner -- senior vice president for Microsoft’s .NET enterprise server division -- at the PASS SQL Server conference in San Francisco for an exclusive interview. Flessner, who drove development of SQL Server and was closely involved with the benchmarking efforts, spoke about some of Microsoft’s recent announcements and how the company is responding to growing competition in the database market.

For more of Flessner’s interview and commentary on Microsoft’s latest TPC-C benchmark numbers, please see the December 13 print edition of ENT or follow the links at the bottom of this page.

ENT: In regard to the SQL Server 2000 for Windows CE announcement made at PASS, why the move to a hand held model?

Flessner: That’s a good question. It’s been part … It’s about developing an application that they can deploy across the broadest reach of the enterprise. The focus a lot of times is on the high-end data center and the big database but the reality is that there are plenty fewer of those applications than -- even though they are high visibility -- than there are applications that run in regional offices, All across the country those small regional offices. But the cool thing now is the reach out all ways with the device. We were talking about what are the types of applications, well claims adjusters out at an auto accident with their CE’s the ability to really estimate on the spot with some confidence and accuracy what are the damages to your car. Or we’ve all gone through the frustration of dealing with real estate agents where they’re downloading this and that and running around with those papers trying to figure out what the available housing market looks like for the parameters that you’re interested in. we really want customers to know that they can leverage their developer experience in SQL Server and have the broadest possible reach of the market. If you know SQL and you know ADL in our programming APIs you can write the TerraServer application with multiple terabytes of data or you can write the Windows CE application and have a hand-held device experience. So it’s really maximizing the reach of ISVs or our software development partners.

ENT: How does SQL Server 2000 compare with Oracle 9i, especially in terms of functionality and scalability?

Flessner: There wasn’t much in 9i in terms of reach down, they tried to do this ploy out across the Internet and talk a lot about caching and those types of things, but from a database perspective, honestly I didn’t see that much new. I was a little underwhelmed with the news. It’s also a product that’s not out.

ENT: What about with db2?

Flessner: There are several vendors in this space. Sybase has got a product, I think the leading product in this space, Oracle has had a product, but it’s really not used much by customers and db2 kind of in the game as well. I think the differentiation from our product is that: one, it’s a very continuous experience with the server, and that’s the most important thing, quite honestly. The other products, Sybase isn’t really any where in the server business anymore so it’s not that interesting from that perspective.  And the Oracle and db2 products really aren’t very continuous with their server product. So I think our advantage is that we do have this very continuous experience. And we are well-positioned in the market place because I think the rich disconnected or occasionally connected allocations are just about to come on the horizon with the new standards coming out with cellular modems getting the digital standard and increasing the through-put or transmission speed of data download devices, and we’re very excited about that.

ENT: About the move last year to change licensing to per-processor, how will that affect MS’s cost benefit with respect to Oracle and other vendors?

Flessner: It’s not so much with respect to Oracle, it was more of what the customer was looking for. The way this CAL model worked great inside the firewall for a long time, and still is very economical in certain situations. But then the Internet came along and we introduced the Internet connector, and the Internet connector only worked outside the firewall and didn’t work inside the firewall, the whole thing got a little too confusing so we kind of backed off and said there’s two ways to license -- you can buy CAL and keep that model in tact, or you can by per processor and get unlimited access based on how many processors you need. And that model works outside the firewall or inside the firewall. So we reserved the CAL model for those customers today have it, need it, but we introduced a new model that can be used inside or outside the firewall that we think is very simple, there’s no power unit calculations. If I have a four-proc today and it’s 500 mHz and I buy another 4-proc that’s 800 mHz, I don’t have to come back and pay MS any more money, there’s none of that. But, what’s fair is if you have more demand on your server and you’re going to introduce more processors, and you’re going to service more customers then we need to collect more revenue on that. I think it’s a very fair model, the customer and analyst feedback has been very positive. It’s simpler for customers to understand.

ENT: There’s been a lot of talk about major licensing changes with .NET. What kinds of changes are on the table for the enterprise server licensing changes and what kind of timetable are we talking about?

Flessner: All the products have standard and enterprise editions with all the products that make sense on it, and you’re going to see a CAL model and a per CPU model. And I think we want to keep it almost that simple to make sure customers understand how to buy our products. The feedback we were getting before was that it was just too complex.

ENT: What kind of movement have you seen on Microsoft’s market share in databases versus Oracle and IBM on the Windows Server platform?

Flessner: There’s no doubt we’re gaining share. And you have to look at share in two ways. In unit share and revenue share. Revenue, we go in the market, many times at half the price, or less than Oracle. So Oracle talks about revenue share which they’ve enjoyed a slight advantage in, but in terms of unit share, some of our numbers project us at almost 70 percent unit share, and only about 40 percent revenue share. So that goes to the fact that competitors charge more. But in terms of, do we believe that we are the leader among customers using a database on Windows, there’s no question. We believe we are without question the leader in that space. And we’re continuing to take share, mostly from Oracle. IBM is being a little more aggressive and I think they’re winning some share too, probably from Sybase, and some of the lower end of the market. There’s no question we’re taking share today.

ENT: SQL Server has been a major target for both IBM and Oracle in the database market, can you comment on that? 

Flessner: Yeah, without question, and I don’t think that will change. I think competition is alive and well here. But not only is the battle I think today has expanded from just Windows.  Windows is starting to eat into the margins of the high end Unix vendors now, and that’s kind of the exciting part. As the Windows market expands, SQL Server’s opportunity to expand obviously increases and we continue to take share on Windows but the more exciting thing is that Windows is taking share from Unix and that’s just expanding the market for us.

For more with Paul Flessner, please check out part of the interview that ran in our print book: http://www.entmag.com/displayarticle.asp?ID=12130083730AM

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About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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