Customers are constantly trying to understand the differences between various databases, seeking price and feature differentiators that can give their organization a competitive advantage. SQL Server Magazine UPDATE readers regularly ask me to compare SQL Server with other databases, and I often see messages like the following on SQL Server newsgroups and forums: "We're currently using Sybase 12.0. Our boss is thinking about switching to SQL Server 2000 but asked me to research the pros and cons of the two database systems first. Can anyone point me to some competitive-analysis information?"

In my years as a consultant, I've learned it's impossible to get a truly unbiased and accurate answer to questions like this from any one source. Most people who are expert enough to answer a deep competitive-analysis question usually have prejudices that can skew their analysis. And most people who can offer a genuinely unbiased answer don't know enough to give a deep analysis of any of the platforms.

I'm not suggesting that people lie when they answer such questions. Take me, for example. I don't say something positive about SQL Server that I don't mean, and I don't hesitate to ping the product in areas where I think it's weak. But I spend my time working with SQL Server because I honestly think it's a valuable product. I filter SQL Server information through my personal lens of reality and tend to have a pro-SQL Server outlook on the world. Talented database professionals in the worlds of Oracle, DB2, and other database products feel passionately about their products and genuinely believe that their particular database is the superior platform. (Of course, I'm right, and they're wrong <g>.)

So customers with questions about competing products should never accept the first answer they receive. The truth is usually found somewhere between two extremes; you get the best competitive-analysis answers by seeking opinions from both product camps and comparing the relative strengths and weakness noted by both sides.

Finding trustworthy competitive information from a vendor is even trickier. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that such analysis from a Microsoft site will be pro-Microsoft. And http://www.oracle.com probably doesn't have many white papers touting the benefits of SQL Server. That said, I recently discovered a valuable resource for getting Microsoft's view of the competitive database world: the SQL Server Competitive Comparisons site at http://microsoft.com/sql/evaluation/compare/default.asp. You need to study the information with your "it's from the vendor" filter in place and compare it to similar pages that other vendors provide. But you'll find many third-party analyst reports and Microsoft-generated content that contains some valuable, verifiable facts. Such sites give you a great place to start your competitive analysis, but don't stop there. Seek out feedback from people and organizations that are using SQL Server and the other databases you're researching. And remember to keep your salt shaker handy.