Computer Associates is looking to breathe new life into a long-quiet database by making it open source in a bid to disrupt Microsoft's SQL Server and Oracle's 10g.

CA will release the Ingres database next week under its own CA Trusted Open Source License (CA-TOSL), company executives have revealed. "We think this will change the market dramatically," said Tony Gaughan, senior vice president. "We're competitive with Oracle."

Gaughan said that this iteration of Ingres, dubbed r3, will outperform Microsoft's SQL Server database, and is more attractive price-wise because it is open source. Although he could not cite specific technical benchmarks, Gaughan claimed that when both databases are running on the same hardware, "Ingres blows SQL Server away".

Microsoft has not run any tests against Ingres, but Tom Rizzo, director of product management for SQL Server, questioned CA's testing methodology, since it was not done within the industry benchmark TPC organisation.

"Ingres is not one of our mainstream competitors," Rizzo said. He continued that Microsoft sees Ingres competing not with the higher-end version of SQL Server but instead with Microsoft's MSDE (Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine), which will become the forthcoming SQL Server Express, due in conjunction with SQL Server 2005 and slated for delivery in the first half of next year. SQL Server Express is a free version of the database.

Microsoft put SQL Server 2005 in beta 2 last week, adding support for AMD's Opteron chips, and a new management tool that includes support for SQL Server Reporting Services, Notification Services, XML, and SQL Server 2005 Mobile Edition.

Gaughan explained that CA has been working on Ingres r3, for 12 to 18 months. "It's significant. We've added a lot of new features. Ingres has to be industrial-strength," he said. Ingres, Gaughan explained, is also three to five development years ahead of the open-source MySQL database. But CA has chosen Oracle, rather than IBM's DB2, as the database to best.

"If you compare Ingres r3 with Oracle 9i, we're very comparable, but Oracle 10g goes ahead of us. We think we can catch up to 10g. Our goal is to exceed Oracle - if we just catch up then there's no point," Gaughan said.

To that end, CA added a clustering option to Ingres that uses Oracle's technology. CA partnered with JBoss to take advantage of the latter's Hibernate persistence and query service to expose data objects.

But at least one analyst was skeptical about Ingres' chances of making a dent in the database world. "I don't think anyone is going to be interested in another open source DBMS," said Bill Claybrook, president of New River Marketing Research, a consultancy specialising in open source technologies. "It is very difficult to make an impact on the database market."

Other companies have failed in what CA is trying to pull off. Great Bridge, for instance, found that it could not survive selling support services for $50,000 for PostgreSQL, and ultimately closed in September 2001.

Furthermore, even if CA does in fact surpass Oracle 10g in terms of performance, the cost of migrating away from a database such as SQL Server or Oracle, particularly when considering applications used with the DBMS, makes the fact that Ingres is open source and initially free less attractive, and may prohibit customers from switching to any open source database.

Claybrook pointed out that the most promising opportunity for Ingres r3 resides in small and emerging companies. "The other area we have some potential in is managing structured and unstructured data," CA's Gaughan said.

CA also plans to harvest the open source community to add capabilities that Ingres currently lacks, chief among those native XML support. But that will require a community of Ingres developers, which, according to Claybrook, is currently non-existent.

The initial open source release of Ingres R3 will run on Linux. Subsequent platforms will follow.