Oracle DBAs Versus SQL Server DBAs

Recently, VMware delivered a unique technology event as a component of an even more unique program. What made this event so unusual was the particular group of technologists attending and the approach VMware has taken to win them over. Since 2013, VMware has offered the VMware Experts Program, to which it invites recognized technology experts in the specific disciplines of Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and big data and high-performance computing. The experts become part of this special program to learn and collaborate with other VMware and external experts. The program initiation occurs when the selected experts travel to a location around the world for 3 days of executive briefings, architectural and engineering discussions, customized labs, and social activities all centered on the particular application or database of focus running on VMware technology. The program enables these industry experts to ask the tough questions, and, since they have all agreed to non-disclosure, they are given straight answers and are provided direct access to the technology to try to push it past its limits. This esteemed program has been held in Palo Alto, Calif.; Sofia, Bulgaria; and Cork, Ireland; the latest event was held in Sydney, Australia.

The amazingly unique aspect of the recent event held in Sydney was that both Oracle experts and Microsoft SQL Server experts were in the same room for the majority of the event. In this article, we explore what makes these two groups different and what makes them similar.

Baby Boomers Versus Generation X

The year was 1977, the company was Software Development Laboratories (SDL) and this is where the first version of the Oracle Database began development. In 1979, SDL changed its name to Relational Software, Inc., then in 1982 to Oracle Systems Corp., and later on, to Oracle Corp. In 1979, Oracle Version 2 was released as its first commercial version of the database. Oracle has always shied away from releasing a version 1 of any its products. The only version 1 of an Oracle product we can remember was FastForms that was released with Oracle Database Version 4.

In the early days, DBAs did not exist. Oracle professionals were developers who performed the many roles that we now know as the sacred realm of the DBA. It is possible but also rare to find an Oracle DBA with almost 40 years of experience.

It was nearly 10 years later when, in 1988, Microsoft joined forces with Ashton-Tate and Sybase to create the first Microsoft SQL Server release, a 16-bit version for the IBM OS/2 operating system. This release allowed Microsoft to enter the enterprise database market and to compete against the Oracle Database and IBM DB2. In 1993, about the same time, the new Windows NT operating system was released, and Sybase and Microsoft parted ways.

At the Sydney event, there was a noticeable difference in age between the Oracle DBAs and their Microsoft counterparts. It was interesting to note that the older Microsoft DBAs all began their careers on Oracle Databases.

The Oracle DBAs present were hard-core DBAs while the SQL Server DBAs were mostly developer DBAs or originally Windows system administrators. This was reflective of the complexities of Oracle versus Microsoft. SQL Server is tightly integrated with the operating system, allowing the typical SQL Server DBA to become more intimate with the application development aspect of the organization. The Oracle RDBMS DBAs tends to use a more siloed approach. The production DBA would not also be expected to be a development DBA.

Loyalty to the Product

Both groups were fiercely loyal to their database and its capabilities. Yet the love for the company was very different. The Oracle DBAs loved the Oracle database, but they were not always very happy with Oracle and how they were treated. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever done a Google search using the key term “Oracle aggressive.”

No matter where the event is held, the topic of Oracle licensing on VMware is always one of the most asked for and animated discussions at the experts event. At this event, VMware invited two firms that specialize in licensing Oracle on a VMware virtualization platform, LicenseFortress and House of Brick.

The Microsoft DBAs, in contrast to the Oracle DBAs, loved the database and loved the company. They see Microsoft as a partner and feel comfortable criticizing the company to help make it better.

Operating Systems

Oracle early on adopted the C programming language, and this enabled it to port the database very quickly to different operating systems. As a result, the Oracle DBAs matured in a world of multiple operating systems, and they were able to understand the effect that had on the database tuning and configuration. While the Oracle Database is portable, there were subtle nuances a DBA would have to master. To save an organization development costs, it is common for an Oracle application to be built on one operating system and then ported and deployed in production on another. The skepticism on how the database would perform was clearly reflective in the questions the Oracle DBAs asked during the program. The tenor was reminiscent of a famous statement made in the 1890s by Congressman Willard Vandiver: “I’m from Missouri, and you’ve got to show me.”

The SQL DBAs were raised in a world of one database tightly coupled with a single operating system—Windows. As a result, the database required much less tweaking to get optimal performance out of the database. The processes were well-known and well-understood. When moving from development to production, it was apparent what to expect for performance and behavior. It is very common for a SQL Server DBA to spend as much time being a developer DBA as a production DBA. In the Oracle world, the DBAs are much more specialized.

From a technology perspective, Oracle DBAs were required to develop skills outside the realm of the database. Oracle Parallel Server (Oracle Real Application Clusters RAC) required the experienced DBA to become a network administrator, and Oracle “Automatic Storage Management” required the DBA to develop skills traditionally restricted to the storage administrator. As a result, the Oracle DBA role became pre-eminent in the data center. In the book Oracle on vSphere, Oracle DBAs are compared to the Roman Praetorian Guard in that the Oracle DBA, similar to the elite legionnaires who were specially selected to protect the Roman emperors, had influence way above their paygrades.

The Communities

Both Oracle and SQL Server have very well-established communities. Yet, while many of the Oracle DBAs were aware of each other’s prominence, the SQL DBAs were a much tighter family globally. This is a direct result of the plethora of events run by PASS (Professional Association for SQL Server), including the loosely connected SQLSaturday events that are held every week around the world.

While the two communities are different, they are also similar in many ways. All DBAs worry about the performance and security of the data and the database. Out of necessity, Oracle DBAs have become more specialized. Will this happen to SQL Server DBAs now that the database is offered on Linux? Both are fiercely loyal to their technology stacks, yet each feels very different about their relationship with the vendor. And, after 40 years of change and growth, the old cliché is still valid: The more things change, the more they remain the same.


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