Data-Modeling Tools: Something for Nothing?

My car came with a preinstalled radio and CD player. The sound system might not be the best in the world, but it does everything I need it to. I love having it in my car, but to be honest, I might have been too lazy to have a similar system installed. Or I might not have paid extra for the radio if it hadn't been included in the car's price.

Let's jump from car radios to data-modeling tools. Most people agree that data-modeling tools make our lives as DBAs and developers easier and produce a better end result. So why don't we use a modeling tool to help us build every database application? It's all about accessibility. These tools tend to be expensive on a per-seat basis, so many people find a way to do without them. All DBAs would love to have powerful modeling tools, but if the tools aren't preinstalled and included in the price of another product the IT department already has, like my car radio was, many companies simply can't afford them.

Welcome to Microsoft Visio 2000 Enterprise Edition. If you're like most people I've talked to, you might not realize that this product comes with a rich data-modeling tool. Even better, you might have already paid for Visio 2000 Enterprise Edition, because it's bundled with the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Universal subscription service.

This column isn't a platform for product reviews, but I'd like to quote Jonathan Chau's recent Visio review from Windows 2000 Magazine (Winter 2000): "Visio 2000 Enterprise Edition offers IT professionals an all-in-one solution: Whatever you need to diagram, Visio can handle it. The product's price is another plus—with a $999 list price, this product costs $1500 less than Computer Associates' (CA's) ERWin but is just as capable. My recommendation to every IT professional: Get a copy of Visio 2000 Enterprise Edition."

Is Visio as functional as other, more established data-modeling tools, such as ERWin? Does it matter? Visio can handle all of your fundamental data-modeling needs, and what the product might lack in advanced features it makes up for in accessibility and cost. Like many of you, I have a subscription to MSDN Universal, which means Visio doesn't cost me a cent.

What does this mean for other data-modeling tool vendors? Today, we have a thriving after-market for car audio equipment, but vendors in this space offer functionality that clearly goes above and beyond what comes bundled with a new car. I don't expect Visio to put the other data-modeling tool vendors out of business, but I'm not sure that the current batch of third-party tools offer enough "above-and-beyond" features to justify their cost over Visio 2000 Enterprise Edition. In the end, with Visio, more DBAs than ever have access to sophisticated modeling tools and third-party vendors are facing the propect of having to offer products with many more features at lower prices. Any way you slice it, that's great news for SQL Server folks.

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