• SQL will be biggest Microsoft product brought to rival OS
  • Nadella aims to broaden pool of potential database customers

Microsoft Corp. is making its database software available for Linux systems, stepping up efforts to court big corporations and win market share from Oracle Corp.

The core database parts of Microsoft’s SQL Server will ship for Linux, a customizable open-source computer operating system, in the middle of next year. Companies can sign up Monday for a private preview of the product on the Ubuntu version of Linux, and Microsoft is also working on a version for Red Hat Inc.’s software.

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella is trying to boost Microsoft’s sales of databases, which help companies store and analyze data. Its goal is to take customers from top vendor Oracle, whose share of the market was twice that of Microsoft’s in 2014, according to IDC. Adding a Linux database also lets Microsoft target the most complicated, high-performance systems, and helps the company sell more to existing customers that use more than one operating system, Nadella said.

“Windows Server, for all our success, we never were big in high-end computing,” Nadella said. “Now, we get an opportunity to go after a big market that we never participated in.” The Linux and open-source database market generated 2014 revenue of $4.4 billion, according to IDC data. Windows databases brought in $6.9 billion that year.

Nadella has also been releasing Microsoft software and applications that run on rival products, such as Apple Inc.’s and Google’s mobile operating systems, and has acquired companies that make products for competitors as well.

Total Cost

Microsoft has added more than $2 billion SQL Server product sales in the past three fiscal years, said Scott Guthrie, the company’s executive vice president of cloud and enterprise, a unit whose largest business is SQL Server. Microsoft has gained customers by offering the products at a total cost that is lower than Oracle’s, Nadella said, and that will continue with the new product.

“You can absolutely count on us to be fairly disruptive in terms of price performance and total cost of ownership value,” he said. Microsoft will hold a customer event Thursday in New York to discuss the new product, as well as the company’s overall strategy for corporate data.

The move also comes amid significant change in the marketplace. The $33 billion relational-database market is forecast to grow 6.6 percent a year on average through 2019, when it will reach $41 billion, according to IDC. That rate of growth is "pretty decent for a market that size," said IDC analyst Carl Olofson. At the same time, open source rivals are growing in popularity within that market, he said, and there are newer options, including NoSQL database companies such as MongoDB and technologies like Hadoop. Many customers are also using database services in the cloud. Microsoft offers its own technologies in many of these areas.

The new product will be Microsoft’s biggest by sales to be brought to Linux, marking a decade of dramatic change in Microsoft’s relationship with the Linux and open-source communities. Fifteen years ago, amid rapid growth in Linux usage on server computers, Microsoft’s then-chief of Windows, Jim Allchin, said that Linux worried him as "an American" who "believes in the American Way" because of its potential to have a chilling effect on software innovation. Four months later, in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, then-CEO Steve Ballmer called Linux a "cancer."

Within a few years, the company was retreating from that position, sending executives to engage the Linux community. In the past few years, Microsoft has added support for several flavors of Linux to its Azure cloud service and made some of Microsoft’s key programming code and research work available via open-source license. 

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