Database Buyer’s Guide Conclusion: Which Database Is Best for You?

In this final instalment of the Database Buyer’s Guide series, we will review the main pros and cons of the various RDBMS products and services solutions that we saw in the series. For more information about each category, please refer to the original article. The series progressed as follows:

The complete range of DBMS types out there, including Desktop, Server, Web-enabled, Cloud DBaaS and Open Source, were outlined in parts one and two, along with some of the more critical evaluation considerations. In part three, we looked at the top three products in the Desktop databases category.  Database Servers sold by the major RDBMS manufacturers – namely Oracle, IBM and Microsoft – received one article each in parts four, five, and six. Part seven was all about open source offerings, including MySQL and PostgreSQL. Finally, in part eight, we tackled third party Data as a Service (DaaS) Database as a Service (DaaS), more commonly known as the Cloud.

If all these options left you feeling just a little overwhelmed and confused, take a look at today’s bird’s eye view of the pros and cons of each database solution to help put things in proper perspective. Think of it as the Cliff Notes of database solutions!

Desktop Databases

This type of database product is popular with small business owners due to its relatively low cost and suitability for single-users or non-interactive Web application batch processes. Three of the major players in the desktop database area are Microsoft Access, FileMaker Pro, and Lotus Approach.



Inexpensive (hundred as opposed to thousands of dollars)

Don’t tend to work well with multiple concurrent users.

Often incorporate a Graphical User Interface (GUI).

May become unusable or corrupted if overloaded with resource intensive operations and/or high record volume (in the millions of rows).

Can be easy to scale later; i.e., MS Access to MS SQL Server.

Security may be lacking or weak.

Can create desktop or Web applications to interact with database.


The Bottom Line: a cost-effective solution suitable for small to medium sized businesses.

Server Databases

If you’re planning a heavy-duty database application like an ecommerce site or a multi-user database, you’re going to need to call on one of the big players. Server databases like Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle provide real power but carry a correspondingly hefty price tag.



Can easily handle hundreds of millions of records and terabytes of data.

Cost: Licensing can run into the thousands of dollars.

Supports fine-grained access security as well as data encryption.

Requires a separate client application unless you don’t mind the basic command line interface.

Highly optimizable for lightning fast performance

Usually requires some SQL and data design know-how. May even necessitate the hiring of expert personnel.

Comes in many editions

Has the best support of all the options with the possible exception of Cloud services – at a cost.

Provides numerous performance analysis and Business Intelligence tools


The Bottom Line: Suitable for medium to enterprise level businesses with a fairly substantial data management budget.

Open Source Offerings

Like a lot of software, databases come in both commercial and open source flavors. The primary deciding factor here is the issue of support. Although open source databases have online communities that work together to resolve issues as they come up, for some people, nothing beats the peace of mind that comes with having a formal support contract.
Some specialized features of commercial databases like Oracle, including features include triggers, views, inheritance, sequences, stored procedures, cursors and user-defined data types, are harder to come by in open source databases. Commercial products often have a more established reliability record as well.



Lowest cost of all database options: usually free with the option of contributing a small donation.

Support may not be as dependable as in commercial licensing arrangements.

Almost as feature rich as their commercial counterparts; features like admin tools, hot backup, file corruption recovery, triggers and server-side functions.

Some key features of enterprise databases may be lacking:

·  Incremental and online/parallel backup/restore

·  Bit-mapped indexing (for large data warehouses)

·  Single GUI administrative interface

·  Views

·  Object (complex data) table or data-type support

·  Deadlock detection

Many free or inexpensive GUI clients available.


Numerous application libraries available for the taking in C, pgsql, python, Perl and tcl languages.


Robustness that exceeds that of desktop databases.


May support third-party storage engines, as in the case of MySQL.


The Bottom Line: A viable low cost alternative to desktop and enterprise-level RDBMS products for small to medium-large businesses.

Cloud-based Solutions

Cloud Services, including Data as a Service (DaaS) and Database as a Service (DBaaS), consist of one or more databases that are hosted by a third party. Within this arrangement, there exist a number of architectural and business models to choose from. Some of the advantages of this route include automatic back ups, scalability, as well as vast computing resources and storage capacity accessible via a simple Web interface. In addition, this setup makes it easy to use replication to enhance availability and reliability for production databases and to scale out beyond the capacity of a single database deployment for heavy traffic. 



Cost savings associated with hardware, personnel, and site maintenance.

Security, liability, and data ownership issues

Scalable and modestly flexible

One-size-fits-all solution. Can only accommodate so much customization.

Increased efficiency that comes with having a whole organization of dedicated resources for data management.

Data could reside anywhere. That’s a big lack of control over your data.

Potential for high availability, as in 99.999% uptime.

Backups may not be verified for completeness and integrity. This becomes a trust issue.

The Bottom Line: An easy way to offload some or all of your data responsibility to a third-party provider so long as you are willing to accept some risk that comes with the inherent lack of control over your data and the facilities that house it.


I hope that you found the Database Buyer’s Guide series to be helpful in your navigation of the database product and service landscape. Information has never played such a crucial role in a company’s success or failure as it does right now. Therefore, it pays to take care in deciding which of the above options is best for you and your business. While mistakes are inevitable to some degree, be aware that fixing them down the road can be extensively more costly than avoiding them from the get-go. To quote the immortal words of the Grail Knight from Indy and the Last Crusade, “choose wisely”!

See all articles by Rob Gravelle

Robert Gravelle
Robert Gravelle
Rob Gravelle resides in Ottawa, Canada, and has been an IT guru for over 20 years. In that time, Rob has built systems for intelligence-related organizations such as Canada Border Services and various commercial businesses. In his spare time, Rob has become an accomplished music artist with several CDs and digital releases to his credit.

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