Some Microsoft product divisions have languished in slow growth for the past several years, but SQL Server isn't one of them. In sharp contrast to most of Microsoft and the computer industry in general, SQL Server posted double-digit growth numbers for Q3 2005. Even more impressive is the fact that this marked the 11th straight quarter that SQL Server achieved double-digit revenue growth.

A few primary forces have driven SQL Server's remarkable growth rate. First, as we know, SQL Server is easier to use and more cost-effective than the competing enterprise databases. While Oracle and IBM DB2 have been entrenched in the enterprise for some time, SQL Server's ease of use and low cost, in combination with important scalability enhancements, have helped SQL Server climb out of the department and into the enterprise.

Price increases at the time of SQL Server 2000's release brought SQL Server into closer cost alignment with Oracle and DB2, but SQL Server customers still enjoy significant ROI benefits because of two important factors. First, SQL Server includes features that are expensive add-ons for Oracle and DB2. For example, Oracle and DB2 treat their high-availability features as optional. Oracle with the high-availability feature costs $41,000 more than SQL Server. Likewise, IBM DB2 sells for $20,000 more than SQL Server with the high-availability options included. SQL Server Enterprise Edition includes this functionality at no extra cost.

Second, Microsoft has been the leader in the business intelligence (BI) space, which is one of the fastest-growing technology markets. SQL Server's leadership in BI has made SQL Server an attractive technology option that provides great ROI. Although Microsoft is sometimes chided for its lack of innovation, SQL Server has been a frontrunner in the area of OLAP and BI since the release of SQL Server 7.0 back in 1998. SQL Server 7.0 was the first enterprise-level relational database to add OLAP capabilities and extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) capabilities to the base product. Microsoft continued this leadership with the SQL Server 2000 release by being the first enterprise-level relational database to include data-mining capabilities. SQL Server 2005 will continue this tradition with the inclusion of the revamped Integration Services and Reporting Services subsystems.

Like the high-availability functionality, BI features such as OLAP and data mining are included in SQL Server right in the box. They're costly optional components for both Oracle and DB2—adding tens of thousands of dollars to the price the customer pays. As you'd expect with such strong growth numbers and Microsoft's aggressive adoption of BI, Microsoft's market share in the OLAP market has also continued to grow. According to the OLAP Report (http://www.olapre port.com), SQL Server held 11.5 percent of the total OLAP market in 2004.

Do growth figures matter to customers who've already purchased SQL Server? You bet they do. First, you know that you've bought into a growing platform that will have good support into the future. Next, you know that since SQL Server is one of the fastest-growing Microsoft products, it should receive Microsoft's best efforts for support and ongoing development. Finally, seeing other customers choose the same path that you have helps validate that you've made the right choice for your organization. With the release of SQL Server 2005 right around the corner, I expect SQL Server's double-digit growth to continue to steamroll along.