Zona Research recently released a study that showed SQL Server as the most used database on the Web. SQL Server's market share grew 13 percent between third quarter 1999 and fourth quarter 1999. According to the study, SQL Server is the overwhelming market leader for enterprise data sources, Oracle places second, and nonrelational data sources such as Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 are tied with flat files for third place. Other database competitors—such as IBM DB2, Sybase, and Informix—bring up the rear.

"What we found is that Microsoft SQL Server continues as the database used by the largest number of responding companies, growing from 56 percent of the respondents in Q3 \[1999\] to more than two thirds, or 68 percent, of the respondents in Q4 1999," the study states. "Oracle remained level at 42 percent, and IBM DB2 grew from 13 percent in Q3 to 19 percent of the responding companies in Q4."

Still, SQL Server's lead in Web usage doesn't represent a lock on the market. Oracle and DB2, for example, are considered the Web's workhorse databases. Although these databases are installed in a small number of physical locations, they're responsible for the highest volume of Web-based transactions. In contrast, SQL Server is typically installed in new Web implementations, for which the ease of use and lower cost of Windows 2000 and Windows NT are key.

"Over the next year, we expect to see Microsoft SQL Server's horizontal penetration turn more vertical as larger databases and highly scalable clustering schemes are placed underneath SQL Server," the study concludes. "The commoditization of databases will continue, and this will eventually favor Microsoft, but it may take several years before the images of IBM DB2 and Oracle 8 as the Bentleys and Mercedes Benzes of the database genre fade to genericism."