Choosing a Database Server

By default, Access operates without a database server. Each user runs a separate copy of the program, which directly accesses the data file. When a database server is introduced, the users' machines stop doing the hard work - they simply query the server, which returns the results.

Why Use a Database Server?

The big advantage of the server approach is speed: all the heavy work happens on the same machine that actually holds the data file, so it's much faster. The second advantage is reliability: the database server software is designed to protect the database against crashes and power failures.

There are obviously many different types of database server software - IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and SyBase are some of the leading names. Most of these are aimed at the larger end of the market, and have matching price-tags. Users looking to upsize from Access are normally at the lower end of the market - the following list shows the options preferred by Blueberry:

Microsoft SQL Server

Microsoft SQL Server is the market leader for small to mid-size database applications - and it's not just because it's Microsoft. The product has a good collection of features, and is easier to use than many of the competitors. However, SQL Server is still a complex piece of software that needs a minor expert to configure, and the cost (around £1,500 for five users, £3,500 for a web connection) can be an issue for some companies.

Microsoft Data Engine/SQL Server Express

MSDE was Microsoft's recommended upgrade route from Access for companies with five users or less: it's actually a cut-down version of SQL Server that is effectively free - developers are allowed to give it away with solutions they create. It has some limitations compared to the full version, however support for it officially ended in 2008 and users are instead encouraged to use SQL Server Express.


MySQL is the alternative solution: it's an open-source database that is basically free, yet is a completely viable competitor to mainstream products. It should be stressed that MySQL is a tried-and-tested product, with over three million users, and test reports show it to be faster than many competitors. The product may not have all the bells-and-whistles of the big commercial products, but it's definitely a route worth considering. MySQL commercial editions start at $20,000 per license, although the community edition can be used gratis. £2000 per server, there are no per-user charges, so it's ideal for larger users or people wanting to connect a server to the web.

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