IBM recently stirred up the database market's low-end price range with the release of DB2 Universal Database (UDB) Express Edition with self-managing and resource tuning (SMART) technology—a repackaged version of DB2 Universal Edition 8.1 designed for the small to midsized business market. SMART technology offers self-healing, self-tuning, and self-administration properties, minimizing DBA intervention and maintenance. Other features include the Configuration Advisor, which optimizes performance, and the Health Center, which monitors your DB2 system, alerts you to potential problems and provides advice about resolving them. For IBM's full press release, go to http://www-3.ibm.com/software/data/info/db2express .

IBM claims that DB2 Express is 33 percent less expensive than SQL Server. But is it really that much less? Yes and no. IBM based that claim on the following comparison. DB2 Express costs $600 for one user and $99 for each additional user. Therefore five users will cost $996. IBM says that a five-user package of SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition costs around $1450—that's about 33 percent more expensive. IBM also points out that a SQL Server Client Access License (CAL) costs around $146 per user—$99 for the DB2 Express user would be 33 percent less.

However, no one (if you're smart) pays list price for SQL Server. I'm not a licensing expert, but major software sellers offer SQL Server CALs for close to $100 based on the license plan you're on. I don't know what sort of open-market pricing will be available for DB2 Express, but I doubt that real-world figures will show DB2 Express costing 33 percent less than SQL Server for comparable configurations. It's also important to note that DB2 Express is limited to just two processors. Need more power? Then you'll need a more expensive version of DB2—needless to say the 33 percent discount evaporates.

DB2 Express is designed and marketed for the small business user because it's limited to two processors. Given that limitation, it's fair to compare DB2 Express to SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE), also limited to two processors. MSDE is free! In reality, DB2 Express falls somewhere between SQL Server Desktop Edition and Standard Edition.

SQL Server Standard Edition supports as many as four processors and includes rich tools like Data Transformation Services (DTS) and Analysis Services, which have no corollary in DB2 Express. MSDE is free, but it won't support as many users as DB2 Express and MSDE ships with limited management tools, whereas DB2 Express ships with a full compliment of the standard DB2 administration tools.

Competition is good, and the launch of DB2 Express is wonderful news for SQL Server users regardless of whether you have plans to use the newest DB2 edition. The bottom line is that DB2 Express puts some new price pressure on the low end of the database market, which is traditionally a space in which Microsoft has been the uncontested champion. DB2 Express pricing will force Microsoft to stay more competitive at the low-end price point, and it might even encourage the company to release a decent set of management tools for MSDE, which has been a sore spot for many people for a number of years. DB2 Express—use it or not, it's still good news for SQL Server users.