Database Cost Comparison

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The Initial Cost

One of the most frequent requests we get is to quote a price for a particular database system or to compare prices for a few specific database systems. When it comes to database licensing and associated costs, sometimes there isn't an easy answer. In this article we will attempt to shed some light on this subject. The cost of database software varies widely, from completely free to staggeringly expensive, as there are many factors to consider. Database licensing can sometimes appear confusing, especially when it comes to Oracle database licensing, where there are a variety of methods for calculating the database licensing costs and choosing from the variety of database options that are available. Keeping that in mind, Let's get started.

The Server

To get a rough estimate of what our costs will be let's say we're setting up a mid-size database server with the specifications listed in the chart below. This is just to have a baseline starting point. You can extrapolate from there what your costs would be if you're building a larger or smaller system.

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Mid-Range Database Server

Cores Per CPU:4
Total Cores:16
Storage:External SAN

The Database Software

Now for the database software cost comparison. As you can see in the chart below, there are substantial costs for some of the proprietary databases. As many proprietary database software companies determine their pricing upon the number of CPUs and/or CPU cores, we will use that approach. The estimates below were made by using our server CPU and CPU core count for our theoretical server above. In our database software cost comparison, we will also be quoting perpetual database licensing fees. This excludes any additional database options or annual support fees which would increase prices further. In many cases, these are conservative estimates, depending upon the number of options. There are other methods to determine price, (such as named users) but the pricing is dependent upon many factors which we won't go into here. Looking at the chart below shows the database licensing models for a particular system in more detail.

Database Licensing

Database Version Software License Cost
DB2 10.5 Enterprise Server Edition Proprietary $122,000
Informix Version 12 Enterprise Edition Proprietary $7,232
MariaDB MariaDB 10 GPL - Open Source $0
MySQL Enterprise Edition Dual Licensing Model $5,000 - $15,000
Oracle 12c Standard Edition Proprietary $70,000
Oracle 12c Enterprise Edition Proprietary $190,000
PostgreSQL 9.3.4 PostgreSQL License
(Open Source)
SQL Server SQL Server 2012 Standard Edition Proprietary $28,688
SQL Server SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition Proprietary $109,984
Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) Proprietary $66,000
(core/base without options)
* All cost estimates unless otherwise noted are based on the number of CPUs and/or CPU cores and perpetual licensing
Oracle database cost estimates are from Oracle Technology Global Price List, March 13, 2014
Microsoft SQL Server license cost estimates are from Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Licensing Datasheet

Please keep in mind that we are not attempting to be all-encompassing with our estimates. With most of the proprietary databases, there are many options and add-ons which we intentionally did not include. Our attempt here was to clear the fog a bit from the subject of database licensing and have a starting point from which to gauge the initial database software costs for a particular system. There are many other database systems which we excluded as those did not meet our focus of this analysis - the most widely used Enterprise relational database management systems (RDBMS).

Beyond the Initial Cost

As you can see from the wide range of prices, the initial investment in database licensing fees can be substantial. In many cases these costs are unwarranted. While heavyweight hitters like Oracle have amazing features that are truly top-notch, rarely do organizations use many of these features. In our experience, even when these features are used, many times they are implemented improperly. In the few instances where the features are properly used, they definitely are worth the price, so we can't outright dismiss these features as unnecessary.

Many times large investments in proprietary software are warranted, but it's shockingly common to see companies spend thousands (or millions) of dollars on equipment, software and personnel for a new system. Unfortunately, after all of these large outlays most organizations end up with a system that resembles and performs like the Hindenburg. Fire things up and they look great until the inevitable crash. It will happen. We've seen it many times. We make a living fixing these mistakes.

Free isn't free - or is it? We're big proponents of open source software. If it wasn't for free and open source software (Apache HTTP Server comes to mind) the internet wouldn't have made it this far if at all. MySQL, MariaDB (MySQL's true open source counterpart), and PostgreSQL are very capable 'free' databases which generally follow a flexible open-source database licensing model. In the right hands and environment, they will perform exceedingly well and deliver beyond what most organizations require. Out of the database systems we've listed above, PostgreSQL has the most open database licensing model in that it is truly open and free. You can read more about it here.

Depending upon your needs, comparing the systems above is somewhat like comparing apples to oranges, as no two organizations or projects have the exact same requirements. All of the systems above are capable and well-suited to many database tasks, but this is a bit of an art and a science. There are many things to consider when planning a new database system, migrating from one type of database to another, or properly tuning a database. None of these tasks are trivial. To guide you through this process you will need to call on an experienced individual or team. The main points to consider are: how will the database be used, how well is it designed, and the experience and knowledge of the team that will be managing that system.

The most costly mistakes are the lack of experience, lack of knowledge and following age-old and outdated thinking that pervades many organizations who deal with data on any scale.

If you're interested in reading a bit on a related topic, you might want to read our blog post about the #1 database performance problem here. We will have more on that subject in another article soon.

Substantial Savings

Determining the cost for a particular system and navigating through the database licensing process can appear daunting at first glance, but that's where we can help provide direction.

If you would like to learn how you can save substantial amounts on your new or existing database systems, further reduce your IT costs, or have any database-related questions, please contact us today to learn more.