Is Oracle Still the “Largest” Relational Database Vendor?

Shawn Meyers (@1dizzygoose), Principal Architect 

A couple of weeks ago one of my coworkers, Dave Welch, published a great blog post about Oracle licensing terms. In this post, he mentions Oracle is the largest relational database vendor in the world. Being a SQL Server DBA, I took some offense to this, as I think SQL Server is larger than Oracle.

Dave confessed he didn’t even have any given criteria in mind when he made the statement. He encouraged me to take up the issue in a blog post. Which got me started on some analysis and discussions, and the first thing that came up was how to define “largest”. The situation reminded me of Ford and Chevy talking about which truck is better. They each pick a place where they have an advantage and state it.

Number of Running Instances

I think of largest in terms of number of servers running the software. I travel a fair amount, visiting clients, and I see a lot of different shops. There have been countless times when I hear something like “we have 20 Oracle servers and 200 SQL servers”. I know there are many shops that are Oracle only, but there are just as many SQL Server only shops as well. Most companies run both, and if you ask around, my experience tells me you will find most shops have more SQL servers running than Oracle servers. Using the amount of installations as our criteria, I think SQL Server wins as the largest deployed relational database vendor.


The next area to consider is ratings, and there are two areas here I want to examine: the Magic Quadrant and the DB-Engines ratings. First is Gartner Group’s Magic Quadrant for Operational Database Management Systems, and for multiple years Oracle has been on top of this chart. But now SQL Server has moved to the right, and higher, than Oracle for 2015 (you can read about it here).

The next area, the DB Engines rating, has a measurement system that is used to rank database engines. It currently has Oracle at the top of its list with MySQL coming in second. SQL Server doesn’t show up until third place. However, one thing that might skew this metric is that even bad news boosts an engine’s ranking. When bad news occurs for any platform, and web searches mention it, the press coverage makes the database system rise in the ranking.

Another factor is that while Oracle and SQL Server are both SQL database systems, people often search for SQL instead of SQL Server. So do all the SQL searches count for only SQL Server, count for both, or not count for SQL Server?

Also, DB Engines looks at many other categories like job postings and technical articles published. For example if tweets were a primary driver, SQL Server would win hands down with the prevalent use of #sqlhelp. If you don’t believe me, check out the twitter feed and you will see many of the best SQL Server DBAs in world answering questions in their free time.

Using these two ratings, Oracle wins (by just nose) for now. However, if SQL Server can stay ahead of Oracle in the Magic Quadrant, this may shift in the coming years.

Application Counts

Which applications use which database platform? Buying OTS (off the shelf) software, there are many, many more applications that have a SQL Server backend, and some support both SQL Server and Oracle and some support Oracle only. I looked, but I couldn’t find any specific numbers. Anecdotally, I have seen one client with over 2,000 OTS applications, and a total of 4,000 supported applications on SQL Server. I have never heard our Oracle team state numbers anywhere close to this. As for in-house developed applications, I couldn’t find any numbers for these either, but your experience (or skill set) will help you determine what you think there is more of.

Overall there are more applications running on SQL Server than Oracle, so SQL Server wins this category.


I looked high and low, and I read earnings statements from both Microsoft and Oracle. However, I could not find any good, current numbers from either Microsoft or Oracle for revenue from relational database sales. There were some good numbers from 2008, but SQL Server was just coming to maturity as a true enterprise database platform at that time and SQL Server 2008 had just been just released.

I wanted just database revenue, not middle tier, but Oracle has so many other products that are not databases, but have a database backend. So, I took revenue from Oracle and then factored out PeopleSoft revenue, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne revenue, Sun revenue, etc., and then made allowances for Sun’s revenue, which has decreased over time. As close as I can figure right now, Oracle has between 9 and 11 Billion in database revenue.

Microsoft revenue from SQL Server was even harder to figure out. Since the reporting bucket for SQL Server recently changed from the Server and Tools operating segment (which was renamed Productivity and Business Processes), to the Intelligent Cloud segment. However, we have a quote from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stating that SQL Server revenue is now over 5 Billion. Since this quote was from early 2014, and we know that the operating segment for SQL Server has grown by over 10% in 2014 and 2015, I think we can safely assume that SQL Server revenue is now over 6 Billion.

Oracle wins the revenue category for now, but with growth slowing, SQL Server can catch up in a couple of years.

Database Value

If SQL Server has more servers running, and the list price per core is very similar between SQL Server and Oracle, how can Oracle have more revenue? The simple answer is the base list price between SQL Server and Oracle is misleading. SQL Server is the value meal approach; where all additional features are included based on the edition, think fries (or fruit cup if you’re trying to think healthier) and a drink. With Oracle you need to pay extra for each additional feature you want to include. In an analysis by Market Realist and Value Prism Consulting, the author talks about how SQL Server 2014 may threaten Oracle, and the graphic shows the price-to-performance comparison for data warehouses with SQL Server providing better value in all aspects.

SQL server wins in the database value category.

Revenue Earned by Database Platform

This category involves how much revenue is run through the database system. It pains me to say this, but Oracle is the clear winner currently, and probably by a large margin. In so many of the places I visit, they have a very large SQL Server footprint, but the system that runs their core business is Oracle. However, there is more talk every day about how these organizations plan to move off Oracle. Some talk is just fantasy due to the nature of the applications, but other companies are taking the time to do a full version upgrade to their core applications and using that as a way to migrate off of Oracle. Plus SQL Server has only been truly Enterprise class for 10 years (Dave would argue SQL Server has only been enterprise class since version 2012, but what does he know?), and it can often take many years to first earn an organization’s trust and then to migrate platforms once their systems are ready.

The Bottom Line

In terms of stating who is the largest relational database vendor, the revenue earned category probably counts the most. So I will have to concede Oracle is currently the largest relational database vendor in the world. But looking at all the trends, this may not be the case too much longer.

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