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Oracle Still King of Database Market

The worldwide market for database software appears to be on a comeback, as total revenues reached $13.6 billion in 2003, improving slightly from 2002, according to the latest figures from market research firm IDC.

The market rebounded from a sluggish 2002 when revenues totaled only $12.6 billion and the niche declined for the first time since IDC began charting it, according to Carl Olofson, research director for IDC's Information Management and Data Integration Software service.

Rivals Oracle , IBM , and Microsoft currently control about 75 percent of the increasingly healthy market for database server software, according to the Framingham, Mass.-based firm.

In 2003, Oracle garnered 39.8 percent of the market for software that helps users retrieve and store information, with IBM nabbing 31.3 percent and Microsoft grabbing 12.1, respectively.

Oracle seems to be enjoying the most fruits of its labors, despite being locked in a battle for control over applications rival PeopleSoft.

Oracle, the perennial database software leader, altered its strategy last year, opting for a "grid computing" approach in which several computers work together to shuttle data between users.

Olofson said IBM slipped slightly, with its growth coming mainly from customers' recommitment to mainframe DB2, and continued strong growth of mainframe DB2 tools for DBAs.

"IBM has been restructuring the pricing of mainframe products for a number of years and from a price/performance standpoint it's pretty competitive with other platforms," Olfoson said.

IBM recently unveiled plans for its next iteration of DB2 Universal Database, which is slated to have more than 200 new features, including self managing, or autonomic computing tools and new clustering perks and Linux support.

Olofson also said Microsoft's growth is tapering, as to be expected with the growth curve of a "strong but maturing vendor." Microsoft is planning a major upgrade for its SQL Server database. SQL Server 2005 will appear next year with significantly enhanced security features for data encryption and decryption.

Looking forward, Olofson said he expects the market for database server software to experience solid growth, reaching nearly $20 billion by 2008.

"We don't expect a dramatic growth over the next year or two, but then in 2006 and 2007 there is every indication that there will be demand for increases in database capacity, given data integration projects and outsourcing of data services, which we think is going to become big by then," Olofson said.

There is a caveat though. Olofson said the increase will be offset by downward price pressure from increasing commoditization plus challenges from the open-source part of the market.

For example, while open source database leader MySQL's market share is a negligible one-tenth of 1 percent now, the analyst said the Swedish-based company has gotten a lot of mindshare because database technicians all over the world have downloaded free copies of it and gotten familiar with it.