SQL Server reached significant milestones in the past year both in performance and overall market share. In February, SQL Server hit the No. 2 spot in the Transaction Processing Performance Council's (TPC's) TPC-C results for nonclustered systems, then went on to top itself in April to take the nonclustered lead. Two weeks later, IBM and UDB 8.1 unseated SQL Server only to have Microsoft and the 64-bit version of SQL Server 2000 come roaring back in May with a TPC-C nonclustered record of 707,102 transactions per minute (tpmC).

Back in March 2000, I predicted that SQL Server would soon crack the top echelon of the TPC-C. At that time, SQL Server had just posted what was then its top TPC-C score of 40,697 tpmC. But perhaps surprisingly, SQL Server's new high marks aren't the direct result of SQL Server improvements. Instead, you can trace the database system's whopping performance numbers to improvements in hardware and the OS.

The 64-bit Intel-based Itanium hardware featured in the latest benchmarks is on par with UNIX systems that ran most of the former top nonclustered systems. The Hewlett-Packard (HP) Superdome used in May's test was a 64-bit, 64-way, 1.5GHz Itanium system with 512GB of RAM. The benchmark ran SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit) on top of Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition (64-bit). Microsoft cites Windows 2003's improved memory capacity, SMP processing, and I/O and networking performance as keys to the OS's 2X performance increase over Windows 2000.

In a year of flat overall database market growth, SQL Server's revenue performance has been equally impressive. According to IDC's 2002 market research report, Oracle and IBM still hold the top spots in the database market, with shares of 39.4 percent and 33.1 percent, respectively. SQL Server is solidly in third place and gaining at 11.1 percent. These sales figures also make SQL Server Microsoft's third-largest revenue-producing platform.

Remember that these market-share numbers are based on revenue, not client seats, and that Oracle and IBM have quite a head start on SQL Server in the enterprise market. More important, despite flat database-market growth, SQL Server is gaining ground on Oracle and IBM. Oracle's market share declined 4.9 percent from 42.5 percent in 2001, while IBM's grew 2.5 percent from 31.1 percent. IDC attributes IBM's growth to Websphere-related sales through the company's global consulting group as well as sales in the Linux market. Even so, SQL Server posted the fastest growth rate, climbing 3.6 percent from 8.5 percent in 2001.

These milestones make some strong statements. Granted, the record-breaking benchmark scores came on machines that few businesses will likely have. But they finally and completely lay to rest the myth that SQL Server doesn't scale to the highest levels of database performance. As for market share, SQL Server's price and ease of use have helped it sell well into small and medium-sized organizations—turf that will be hotly contested as IBM and Oracle try to increase their revenue from this segment and as open-source databases such as MySQL increase their competition. The challenge ahead for Microsoft is to keep SQL Server affordable and easy to use while adding advanced features aimed at the enterprise.