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Six free databases with commercial-quality features

Microsoft, Oracle offer impressive free versions of their commercial offerings, but MariaDB wins our test

By Susan Perschke, Network World
December 03, 2012 12:08 AM ET

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The installer for SQL Server Express presents an installation center from where you can read the release notes, run tools such as the Configuration Checker to make sure your server has the prerequisites installed and install the actual server, either by running an upgrade wizard or performing a fresh install.

For this review we chose the latter. SQL Server installations are notoriously time-consuming and SQL Server Express is no exception. There are several choices to be made during the install such as which security model to use (we selected mixed SQL and Windows mode).

The SQL Server Management Studio is a comprehensive management interface that provides administrators and programmers the tools they need to manage servers and databases as well as develop database business intelligence (BI). For developers, it can also be integrated with other tools such as Visual Studio and SQL Server Developer Studio.

Inserting a million-plus records took just over one minute and, for comparison, the same data inserted on a standard version of SQL Server took about 45 seconds. Retrieving the first 100,000 records took 10 seconds using SQL Server Express and three seconds on the standard version. However, when we were working with smaller datasets we found the Express version performing nearly as well as the Standard version. For instance, updating a single record took only fractions of a second longer with Express as compared to Standard using our million-row test table.

Security features include basic auditing and user-defined roles controlling access to data and objects. Support for SQL Server Express is available through the Microsoft Developer Network and a variety of online support forums and blogs.

While SQL Server Express may not have all the features -- such as high availability and clustering -- of its commercial siblings, it is a mature and solid database server that will deliver and perform well for a large percentage of database applications. For admins who prefer a GUI to manage their database, they're going to be hard-pressed to find a better management interface than the one offered by Microsoft; the only one we found that came close was the pgAdmin from PostgreSQL.


MariaDB is essentially a binary drop replacement for MySQL created by the same developer as MySQL, Michael Widenius. With some uncertainty about the future of MySQL, now that it is owned by Oracle, there is a large group of community developers who would like to maintain an open source version with all features. The extent of the compatibility is such that MariaDB does monthly merges with the MySQL code base to make sure any features and bug fixes Oracle puts out are added to the latest version of MariaDB and vice versa. MariaDB is published under the GNU public license, and we installed Version 5.5 on Windows Server 2008 R2.

We used HeidiSQL 7.0 front-end client to connect to MariaDB. This gives you a user interface from which you can perform a variety of tasks, such as create new databases, tables and views, as well as import/export data in several formats. After setting up our test database and table we loaded our million-plus rows from a CSV file using the low-priority setting and the data was inserted in less than a minute. MariaDB returned the first 100,000 rows in less than two seconds when using a select statement. As expected, when working with smaller subsets of data we found performance well within the acceptable range. We were able to delete and update statements on single rows in fractions of a second.

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