The Internet economy's voracious appetite for information has made data a commodity. But the tools for managing that data have always been complex and expensive - characteristics that don't fit the average e-commerce business plan.
In response, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM have been working to make their products easier to use. Each has taken a different approach.
Oracle reduced its consulting head count and added customer sales and support portals on the Web. Executives cited the former move as being behind Oracle's stellar third-quarter earnings, said product manager Jeremy Burton.
Oracle also announced a sales-oriented alliance with Cisco Systems and EMC, through which it will offer predefined combination packs that incorporate all three companies' products targeted at different markets.
Microsoft's SQL Server 2000, currently being beta-tested, includes business intelligence and data warehousing logic that's ready to run or can be used as the foundation for further customisation.
In February, the company announced the formation of Avanade, a joint venture with Andersen Consulting that will provide Microsoft-specific sales and consulting to corporate customers.
IBM has released DB2 Universal Database Version 7, which includes the OLAP Server component, formerly packaged as a separate option. The company also announced that it was significantly increasing its database sales force and adding a flexible pricing plan intended to allow application service providers to license DB2 Version 7 for a small investment.
The result of these efforts is the same, said officials from each vendor: rapid deployment at minimal cost that is more in keeping with Internet business life cycles.
"More functionality, less complexity," Ben Barnes, general manager at IBM's Global Business Intelligence Solutions division, said of IBM's goal.
But at the same time, IBM is trying to avoid a slide toward a "database-as-commodity" approach.
"I don't think we're at the point where you can make your decision on price alone," said Jeff Jones, senior program manager at IBM's Data Management Solutions.
Mitch Landry, director of product marketing at Embarcadero Technologies in San Francisco, said DB2 Version 7 is a huge improvement in terms of Web readiness, and both the product and the company appear to be able to keep up with the competition.
But analyst Norma Schroder at San Jose-based Dataquest was less optimistic about the emergence of a possible leader.
"None is right; they are just different," Schroder said.