When it comes to choice of Data Management System, the battle is often played out between SQL Server and MySQL. But what are the real differences, and how do you know how to make the right choice for your organisation?

Let’s take a closer look at the various features of each.

Microsoft SQL Server

SQL Server has long had a secure place in the market thanks to its Microsoft merits. With a long history of releases and frequent updates, SQL Server is considered by many to be the most trusted database application available. Originally Microsoft’s response to competitive products in the enterprise-level market, SQL Server has since become the default choice for many businesses investing in a Microsoft environment.


MySQL is an open source software product, originally established independently but now owned by Oracle. It is a RDMS (Relational Database Management System) that uses its own “dialect” of SQL. As it is freely available, users have traditionally challenged MySQL’s ability to compete with various commercial alternatives. However, over time MySQL has proven to be a highly stable product – both in terms of feature quality and maintenance.

SQL Server vs MySQL: The differences


One key point of comparison so far has been that MySQL can be used on multiple platforms, while SQL Server has been Windows-only and seemed likely to remain that way. However, in March 2016 Microsoft announced its plans to support Linux – sending shockwaves throughout the database management market. Suddenly, SQL Server has now become a viable option for Linux environments, which was previously a potential deal-breaker for customers.


For a long time MySQL came under fire for not supporting some of the most common features of other relational databases, such as transactions or stored procedures. These features and a host of other important ones were introduced in the 5.0 revision, silencing a good deal of criticism.


MySQL has the ability to use multiple storage engines for individual tables, meaning the user can choose the most effective one for a given table. One such engine is InnoDB, which was designed specifically for high reliability – sometimes at the expense of speed.

SQL Server on the other hand uses its own proprietary storage system for everything, but maintains multiple safeguards against data loss. Both SQL Server and MySQL can run in clusters for high availability.

Analysis and reporting

One of the greatest advantages of SQL Server is its broad range of native data analysis and reporting tools. SQL Server Reporting Services is one of the most prominent and widely used, and is available with SQL Server Express Edition as a free download.

Third parties have written similar tools for MySQL, such as Crystal Reports XI and Actuate BIRT, which are both commercial products.


SQL Server provides market leading security features and it includesMicrosoft’s Baseline Security Analyzer which helps administrators ensure that the SQL Server installation is up to date. MySQL does not include such a tool.

Both technologies are however EC2 compliant and have adequate security support for building applications at government level.


One key practical difference between SQL Server and MySQL is how the two programs interpret the SQL-92 standard. SQL Server uses an implementation called T-SQL, which was designed to make common computations easier and faster.

MySQL uses ANSI SQL 99, which supports many of the same functional behaviours as SQL Server but lacks the breadth and depth of T-SQL.

This means that an application written specifically for MySQL or SQL Server cannot be switched from one platform to the other without rewriting substantial parts of the code.


The most obvious difference between MySQL and SQL Server is of course the price.

MySQL and its client libraries are free to use under the GNU Public License, though the system is also released under a more proprietary license when needed. Many commercial Web hosts use MySQL as the default database application, due to the low cost and broad support. For MySQL, there are also no specific usage restrictions, such as a maximum number of seats in a single installation.

SQL Server offers three main licensing levels through its Enterprise, Business Intelligence and Standard Edition. SQL Server also offers an entry-level, free product which is suitable for learning and for building small applications.

Who’s the winner?

The single biggest reason to choose any one database product over another should be based on your applications and where you are in your development cycle.  It’s the ability of the applications that use the databases that support the business that matters.

For a growing organisation with a generous IT budget and a wide scope of needs to create or support various applications compatible with Microsoft – or Linux, for that matter – it would make sense to look at SQL Server.

For applications where the development process would benefit from an unlimited approach to licenses and multiple-platform environment support, MySQL would be a superb alternative.

If you are struggling to define your business requirements to clearly determine the best database management product for you, we’re here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation.