Vying for pole position

In this report, we surveyed users of every relational database management system that can be used with NEXTSTEP, both those servers that run natively under NEXTSTEP and those servers that a NEXTSTEP client can connect to across a network. Comments from other users paint the best picture of the differences between data servers; in their comments, you're likely to find situations that are similar to your own.

Gupta SQLBase Server

Parabase Software Corporation (formerly IP Design) sells Gupta SQLBase Server, a data server popular on DOS and Windows platforms. When contacted by NeXTWORLD, the Naval Command Control and Ocean Surveillance Center in San Diego was evaluating the product. R.S. Brown, a scientist in the organization's research division, explained that he was intrigued by the product for two reasons: price and size. "Running an unlimited-user version of Sybase on our processor would require a $100,000 license. In contrast, the SQLBase Server is $9995 for an unlimited version," says Brown.

To manage the continuing proliferation of government forms, Brown is interested in deploying a database-management application on laptop computers running NEXTSTEP. Brown says the Gupta SQLBase Server "is trim, which means we can consider handling forms on a laptop and uploading completed work to the central server." Because the Gupta SQLBase Server is also available for Sun SPARC platforms, Brown says that he can move his database to faster RISC-based hardware if his Intel-based NEXTSTEP server proves inadequate.

Gupta SQLBase Server
$995 single user; $1995 five users; $4995 20 users

A NEXTSTEP version of the SQL server popular under Windows and DOS. Very compact compared to Sybase or Oracle.

Parabase Software Corporation, 550 Kirkland Way #100, Kirkland, WA 98033.

206/828-8172; 206-828-2107 fax; info@parabase.com.

IBM data servers

Micro Decisionware's MDI Database Gateway offers access to databases residing on IBM mainframes. The Gateway consists of two parts: a DBKit adapter and a special bridge that runs on an IBM OS/2-based computer. Using the system, NEXTSTEP users can connect to the OS/2 EE database server. Add to the mix Microsoft SQL Bridge and the MDI Host Access Server running on the OS/2 machine, and NEXTSTEP applications can connect to IBM DB2, VSAM, IDMS, ADABAS, or IMS/DB database-management systems running on IBM mainframes over LU6.2 networks.

The gateway system is ideal for customers who are in transition and need to be able to access both their mainframes as well as workstation-based data servers, says Gus Reyna, UNIX product manager for Micro Decisionware.

MDI Database Gateway
$6995 unlimited OS/2 users; $60,000–$155,000 unlimited mainframe users

Micro Decisionware, 2995 Wilderness Place, Boulder, CO 80301.

303/443-2706; 800/221-3634.

INGRES

One of the oldest UNIX databases, Ingres has had a long history in both the academic and corporate worlds.

Although the database is at the heart of Adama-tion's Who's Calling? and What's Happening? scheduling programs, it is com-mercially unavailable on NEXTSTEP. Instead, NeXT users who want to use Ingres must run it on another operating system, such as Solaris, and connect to the engine over the network. Probably the easiest way to make the connection is with PenUltimate Development's DBKit adapter, DBConnect. The current version of DBConnect (1.2) connects to Ingres SQL servers running on Sun, Data General, and HP platforms. Future versions will connect to Ingres running on IBM RS/6000, Pyramid, and Sequent platforms.

At the Mayo Foundation in Rochester, Minnesota, database management coordinator Michael Fryer is evaluating DBConnect for the Ingres data server. "We've been using an Ingres server since 1985; we're particularly interested in using NEXTSTEP as a client with the Ingres distributed-database capability," says Fryer, mentioning research facilities the Mayo Foundation runs in Florida and Arizona. "With the Ingres Star product we'll be able to register a local database in the distributed-database server, which will let researchers access data across a WAN as transparently as a local server."

ASK INGRES/Intelligent Database
$2500 single user–$384,000 unlimited users

Ask Group, 1080 Marina Village Pkwy., Alameda, CA 94501.

510/769-1400, 800/446-4737.

Penultimate/DBNS, 1319 Summit Ave., St. Paul, MN

55105. 612/646-1336.

InterBase

The most interesting entrant in the NEXTSTEP data server race may be Borland International, if for no other reason than its visibility as a leading developer for DOS and Windows. Borland might never have noticed NeXT, if it were not for two InterBase customers who wanted a version of InterBase for NEXTSTEP. Driven by Chicago trader NationsBanc-CRT and pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories, Borland is now offering a NEXTSTEP-for-Intel version of InterBase to all NeXT customers. "We've found a strong business case for marketing a NEXT-STEP version," says Betsy Burton, product manager for InterBase.

In 1987, when NationsBanc-CRT adopted InterBase, it was one of the few data servers that accommodated triggers, which the financial group hoped to use to maintain the database's integrity. NationsBanc-CRT also liked InterBase's facility for instant database recovery, which uses a technique called versioning. In recent years, John Bruns, vice-president of technology for NationsBanc-CRT, has developed an increasing appreciation for InterBase's versioning architecture. "Its locking strategy is a prerequisite for storing objects in an object-oriented system," he says. The architecture also makes InterBase a better choice for environments that require both on-line transaction processing and support for executive information systems. "Versioning allows faster response for our trading applications. Our traders don't want to be locked out by someone doing updates. They want an answer now."

InterBase also offers special features, such as distributed-database capability and ability to handle arrays (useful for large-scale modeling).

InterBase
$1450 for single NEXTSTEP user

SQL server for mixed environments. A versioning architecture makes distributed databases and instant recoveries possible. Currently in beta.

Borland International, 1800 Green Hills Rd., Scotts Valley, CA 95067.

408/431-5428, 800/245-7367.

NCR

NCR's DBC 1012 parallel-processing computer is delivered with its own SQL-compliant database-management software. Originally designed by Teradata, a company acquired by NCR in 1992, the database is well suited both for decision support as well as on-line transaction processing. Few organizations can afford these massively parallel machines, but those who can consider them strategic weapons.

At Bank of America in San Francisco, Michael Koved, manager of finance in the bank's acquisition analysis department, uses Improv on a NeXT to analyze the results of very large complex queries returned by the bank's DBC 1012. Koved says, "I logged 17,000 CPU hours in one month alone. Remember there's only 720 hours in a month. You can only do that on a Teradata, with its parallel processing."

All of the bank's records, which are entered and managed in dozens of different data-processing systems, are consolidated in the Teradata for use by analysts such as Koved. "It's unusual in banking, or in any large organization, to maintain such a complete data store," says Koved. "It requires an exceptional organizational commitment. Of course, it also takes a 500-MIPS machine with 400GB of storage, plus the Teradata architecture, to be able to process 7,000,000 transactions in less than a minute. And some stuff we do here on the Teradata takes hours. There's no other system that could do it."

NCR DBKit adapter
$995 single copy; $5000 ten users; $25,000 unlimited license

NCR DBC 1012
$700,000–$15,000,000

Combination of parallel-processing hardware and DBMS software for high-performance, fault-tolerant SQL relational-database management.

NCR, 1700 South Patterson Blvd., Dayton, OH 45479.

800/225-5627, 619/485-3600; ask.lcpd@sandiegoca.ncr.com.

Oracle

According to research firm Dataquest, Oracle dominated the RDBMS market with 47 percent of all licensing revenue in 1992, partly because Oracle is available as a server running on more platforms than any other RDBMS product. NeXT provides a DBKit adapter for Oracle Version 6 bundled with NEXTSTEP.

Neil Greene, president of benchMark Development in Lexington, Kentucky, and a consultant to the Association of Racing Commissioners International, chose Oracle as a server for an application that delivers licensing records to 300 racetracks around the world.

"The reason we chose Oracle has nothing to do with NEXTSTEP," says Greene. "We're delivering a character-based dial-up application. It's running on a NeXTcube now, but I know computers will change over five years and I wanted to be able to move the application to other computers if I wanted. An Oracle application is very portable."

Although Greene found Oracle's development tools, SQL Forms and SQL Menus, much easier to use than Sybase development tools, he notes they only produce character-based applications and says he is currently developing applications for the Oracle server that will use a NEXTSTEP interface.

Oracle RDBMS
$3200 single user; $6400 eight users

Oracle's Version 6 SQL server was available in a version intended for NEXTSTEP 2.1 and is available on other platforms across a network using a NeXT-supplied DBKit adapter. The new ORACLE7, released in 1992, is not currently available in a version for NEXTSTEP but may be ported to NEXTSTEP 3.2.

Oracle Corporation, 500 Oracle Pkwy., Redwood Shores, CA 94065.

415/506-5072, 800-345-3267.

QuickBase

SofDesign Solutions, of Greenwich, Connecticut, has been delivering its QuickBase product to NEXTSTEP developers in various versions for over a year. Cody Bateman of the Everest Group in Dallas is one developer who chose QuickBase after a comprehensive evaluation of data servers at NeXTWORLD Expo in May.

"The reason was cost, primarily," says Bateman. "QuickBase is small and quick, but it's also very inexpensive and, for us, delivers the best price-to-performance ratio. We can use it on laptops to demo our products and then move it to a '486 system. Our customers are not going to spend $10,000 to run a 4000-item database, so QuickBase makes sense to us."

QuickBase comes with a variety of NEXTSTEP-based administrative tools for starting and stopping servers, adding new users, and viewing raw database data. The server has a feature called notification, which alerts clients displaying a particular record when that record is updated. QuickBase ships with source code for several demonstration applications.

Bateman cautions that QuickBase offers only a subset of the SQL language. "But those SQL statements are the only ones we need, and it eliminates the overhead of all the other commands," he says. In addition to advantages of cost, size, and speed, Bateman says SofDesign Solutions provides the best customer support of the nearly dozen vendors with which he works.

QuickBase
$695 three users

The least expensive SQL server for NEXTSTEP. The product delivers features, such as notification, that are not available on some higher-priced products. A limited set of SQL statements could be a drawback.

SofDesign Solutions, 47 Arch St., Greenwich, CT 06830.

203/629-0970, 800/234-0990; sdc@gun.com.

Rosebase

San Francisco Bay-area start-up Blue Rose Systems emphasizes the importance of query-based decision support to potential users of its Rosebase data server. The server, which is currently in beta testing, is envisioned to run under both NEXTSTEP and computers equipped with NeXT's Portable Distributed Objects.

Hubert Hickman, a developer of health-care software in Omaha, Nebraska, is considering adopting Rosebase as his server of choice "because we want a server that is robust," he says. Hickman considered QuickBase but preferred RoseBase because it implements more of ANSI SQL. "It is industrial quality in terms of its breadth and depth of SQL support," he says.

Hickman is developing his application using a Sybase five-user limited li-cense but is unhappy with the tier-based licensing fees demanded by many data-server vendors. Hickman says, "With Gupta, we'd have to buy licenses for five, 20, or 50 users. What if our customer just wants a 12-user license?" Hickman hopes that the accessibility and responsiveness of Blue Rose Systems will serve his customers better. He emphasizes, however, that cost is only one aspect of his decision, and that he requires that any server he adopts be robust.

Rosebase
$395 per user

An inexpensive SQL-compatible server for NEXTSTEP, optimized for decision support.

Blue Rose Systems, 26883 Dezahara Way, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022.

415/949-2426; 415/941-7129 fax; info@BlueRose.com.

Sybase

Sybase is the original NEXTSTEP database: five-connection developer licenses were provided bundled with NeXT's original NeXTcube and 1.0 operating system. Currently, Sybase no longer supports its database engine on the NEXTSTEP operating system. Instead, Sybase expects NEXTSTEP workstations to connect with Sybase servers running on high-end platforms such as Sequent, Sun, or HP. Sybase continues to supply NEXTSTEP client libraries for database developers. Furthermore, NeXT bundles a Sybase DBKit adapter with every copy of NeXT-STEP, making it easy for NeXT users to connect with Sybase SQL servers. As a result, Sybase remains the database of choice in large portions of the NeXT community.

Outside the NeXT world, Sybase ranks as the number-three database, according to the research firm Dataquest, closely trailing Ingres and Oracle with 13 percent of all licensing revenue in 1992. The product's transaction-oriented processing speed is considered very good and it offers a very full feature set, including support for stored procedures, triggers, and a full complement of ad-ministrative functions.

Sybase SQL Server
$3750 per single UNIX user; $115,480 unlimited users

A popular data server, both for older versions of NEXTSTEP and on other hardware platforms. NeXT bundles a DBKit adapter with NEXTSTEP for Sybase servers.

Sybase, 6475 Christie Ave., Emeryville, CA 94608.

510/596-3500, 800/879-2273.