Microsoft claims that its newly produced Terraserver geographical database is the "world's largest Web database", a boast hotly disputed by IBM.
Terraserver, which is based on a preview version of SQL Server 7.0, contains 3.5Tbytes of uncompressed data (1Tbyte compressed), including aerial photographs and satellite images of most areas of the globe. Microsoft claims it is "bigger than all the HTML pages combined already on the Internet".
Microsoft's objective in developing the online data source was to demonstrate to enterprise users the ability of SQL Server technology to handle very large databases. But this has been marred so far by access problems and a strong denial from IBM that Microsoft has the largest Web database.
IBM pointed out that its own Internet based patent site contains 15Tbytes of data, the database for the Winter Olympics in Japan had 4.2Tbytes, and the site run by parcel carrier UPS database supports 11Tbytes. All of these are powered by IBM's DB2.
Steve Mills, general manager of IBM's software solutions division, said that Microsoft's performance claims were not in line with the reality. that "You don't get to Carnegie Hall because you got a saxophone and you can blow a note," he said.
Many potential users of Terraserver were unable to access it because of server crashes, or were met with an error message saying that there were too many users, making it almost impossible to access the site.
Doug Leland, a Microsoft product manager, said that the problem was not in the hardware - an eight-processor Alphaserver from Compaq/Digital - or software, but "just a capacity planning issue".
The problems of accesing the new breed of mega-databases on the Internet highlights the need for more Net bandwidth more than the pros and cons of Microsoft technology. But they do tarnish the attempt to use Terraserver to back up Microsoft's boasts about the scalability of SQL Server 7.0 Enterprise Edition (EE) and NT Server EE, and their ability to deliver massive amounts of data.
Terraserver contains satellite imagery of major population centres from the Spin-2 databases. The most detailed is from the Russian Space Agency's Sovinformsputnik. Owned by Spin-2 Marketing of North Carolina, the images cover only selected parts of the world - and not most of the US - but will be extended.
Terraserver also includes aerial photographs, supplied by the US Geological Survey, for around a third of the US.
The database can be browsed free of charge but prints of the images must be ordered online, for a fee, from their owners, using the Microsoft ecommerce server. Microsoft says it makes no money from operating the service.
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