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For software developers, choosing the right embedded database can make all the difference when it comes to performance and reliability. As the embedded database market continues to grow, vendors are planning to leverage a combination of technology and partnerships to expand their offerings.

Key users of embedded databases—database systems that are part of an application—are ISVs. If the consolidation continues in the application market, research firm IDC said that the reduced competition among ISVs could result in smaller embedded database providers being shut out in favor of nameplate vendors such as Oracle.

“For embedded database system vendors that have no particular specialty or differentiating technology, this is undoubtedly true,” said Steve Graves, CEO of McObject. “For example, it is hard to imagine what would compel a developer of a line-of-business application to embed a database system from a smaller vendor versus Sybase’s SQLAnywhere or Microsoft SQL Server Express Edition. In embedded systems, however, [requirements] such as a small footprint, portability or ability to run without a filesystem narrow the field of choices and virtually eliminates the nameplate DBMS vendors.”

Oracle is currently perched atop the embedded database market, according to IDC. In its report, “Worldwide Embedded DBMS 2007-2011 Forecast and 2006 Vendor Shares,” IDC credited Oracle with a 23.2 percent share of worldwide embedded DBMS software revenue in 2006. Next in line was Progress Software, with 14.1 percent.

“To deal with potential consolidation in the application market, we plan to continue supporting our partners from both business and technical perspectives,” said Kimberly Mager, senior manager of product marketing for Progress Software’s OpenEdge offering. “We will continue to make it easy to interconnect OpenEdge applications with other apps, using standard Web and messaging technologies, data interoperability and all of the elements of an easily managed service oriented architecture.”

A large number of Progress customers have a mix of Microsoft, Oracle and DB2 database applications, she said, adding the company plans to continue to grow in part by remaining efficient at its transactional role.

Forrester Research analyst Noel Yuhanna said that while there is consolidation in the application market space around mature, large applications such as CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning) and SCM (supply chain management), there is still a growing demand for specialized applications to support vertical industries or deal with business analytics.

“The key benefit of embedded databases is zero administration and low cost, which is why it’s been successful, especially in the SMB [small and midsize business space], where DBA resources are often scarce,” he said. “While mid- to large-applications would definitely favor a full-blown DBMS, smaller to mid-sized applications often don’t need a very complex DBMS to begin with.”

Another challenge for smaller vendors is in database consolidation, which may force applications to tie their data management functionality into existing databases, slowing market growth, the IDC report predicted.

Maybe, maybe not, Graves said.

“If a developer is creating a mobile component to a CRM application to be used by road warriors, then an argument could be made that MS SQL Server Compact Edition would be a good choice due to its inherent ability to sync with an enterprise SQL Server database,” he said. “On the other hand, there are many embedded systems that run on embedded/real-time OS that have a need to exchange data with enterprise databases. Because these embedded systems run on platforms that the nameplate DBMS vendors do not support—VxWorks, Integrity, QNX—or have performance requirements that the enterprise databases cannot satisfy, the growth of this market actually benefits embedded database vendors such as McObject.”

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In addition, because embedded databases often support specific application requirements and focus on small- to medium-sized applications with less data, they are often not the target of consolidation.

“Consolidation may be more likely among traditional database suppliers who are driven to be all things to all people than it will be for us,” Mager said. “There are huge cost burdens in trying to provide data warehouses, spatial databases, e-mail databases and the specialized access methods, utilities, tools and applications to go with them. We don’t do that. Our focus is empowering transactional applications that are the core to a company’s business.”

Despite challenges that lie ahead, analysts are predicting the market’s steady growth will continue over the next several years, and officials at Oracle said that in the end, a combination of reduced dependencies on external systems and lower total cost of ownership will help drive the market.

“There are more and more devices and applications at the edge of the datacenter, edge of the network, in people’s homes and in the mobile world,” said Rex Wang, vice president of embedded systems marketing at Oracle. “All these devices and applications need to store data locally, manage themselves without a human DBA and operate continuously without the end user knowing that there’s a database inside. Embedded databases are ideal for these environments.”

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