Virtually every company that operates online uses some kind of database to store information. SQL servers are one of the most commonly used tools to deploy and maintain such databases.
SQL servers are synonymous with the concept of relational databases. Relational database software makes up 7 of the 10 most commonly used database management (DBMS) systems, according to DB-Engines.
People do not always think of, or want, a literal, physical server when they say “SQL server.” Often, professionals use the term to refer to the database itself, rather than the computing server that delivers it.
What is an SQL Server?
The term SQL server is also commonly used in reference both relational databases as well as Microsoft SQL Server (MS SQL), which is the highest-rated relational database listed on G2 Crowd, and the third most popular, according to DB-Engines.
Today, SQL servers are used by enterprise companies and small businesses alike. They provide efficient ways to store information and have been around long enough to make their way into virtually every industry.
History of SQL servers
Structured query language (SQL) is a domain-specific language used for managing and retrieving information stored in a relational database. The language was first seen almost 50 years ago when IBM employees learned the benefits of leveraging a relational model for information storage.
As a language, SQL is divided into elements such as clauses, expressions, queries and statements. These elements are different structural components that help users outline actions and specific data values to interact with.
The language has slowly become standardized since its invention and remains widely used across businesses and industries, regardless of size. One reason it is widely used is the belief that SQL is rather intuitive compared to other query languages, specifically because of its consistencies with spoken language.
Traditional relational databases
Relational databases were among the first commercially available database systems that are still available today. The first commercially available relational database was System/R, developed by IBM and made available in 1978. It would later be replaced by a number of IBM relational database offerings, most notably IBM Db2.
SQL databases and relational databases store information that will be delivered through online applications. Developers often use a relational database as the back end for an application. Data is stored within the database and integrated with front-end clients requesting information.
Still, they can be used for a variety of purposes. Companies can use relational databases to store and analyze business data, user information or virtually any type of data requiring a dedicated repository.
Hybrid SQL databases
Relational databases have historically been essential for business operations. But in recent years, companies have begun to adopt hybrid SQL/NoSQL databases to add additional functionality and storage capabilities.
Object-oriented databases are organized database object files containing various details about grouped information, rather than individual, standalone data points. An object file includes metadata, identifiers and datasets in one cluster.
Document and graph databases are relatively intuitive concepts and basically do what their names would indicate. Document databases store information in the form of documents and retain their ability to edit, update or delete information. Graph databases use topographical models to store data and connect related data points to create nodes (information) and edges (related datasets).
Best SQL servers and relational databases
Below you'll find the best SQL servers and relational databases according to G2 Crowd's real-time user reviews:
1. Microsoft SQL
Vendor: Microsoft User Reviews: 1,332 Star Rating: 4.3 out of 5.0 stars
As stated earlier, Microsoft SQL Server is the most commonly used and highest-rated relational database on our site. The product supports most common Windows and Linux operating systems.
Some standard features within the current version of SQL Server include referential integrity, fine-grained locking, and multiversion concurrency control. It also supports access through both SQL queries and graphical user interfaces. Its highest-rated features on G2 Crowd are its query language support, availability and stability.
What users say: “The constant improvements and addition of new features really surprise me each time they release a new version. SQL-included tools are a perfect compliment to make use of the features that are released. I also very much appreciate the community that is surrounding the SQL software. I love that it's easy to provide feedback and see responses from actual Microsoft employees.” — Microsoft SQL review by a user in hospital & health care
Vendor: Oracle User Reviews: 884 Star Rating: 4.3 out of 5.0 stars
MySQL is a cross-platform, open-source relational database that was released in 1995. MySQL was purchased by Sun Microsystems, now Oracle Corporation.
th an open-source version and a commercial enterprise version are available. The enterprise edition includes a number of extensions and plugins that provide additional functionality. The product’s highest-rated features on G2 Crowd are its availability, query language support and storage capacity.
What users say: “MySQL is a very intuitive database schema. The ease of use is excellent. Learning SQL and applying it to mySQL is very easy to do and makes one’s life of organizing data much easier. It is one of the largest database languages in the entire world, which means there is a lot of support and troubleshooting available online. Searching for solutions to common problems is very easy and can be solved just by doing a quick online search.” — MySQL review by John L.
3. Oracle Database 12c
Vendor: Oracle User Reviews: 411 Star Rating: 4.2 out of 5.0 stars
Oracle’s relational database offering is the most popular database of any kind listed on DB-Engines. However, Oracle DB is only the third most popular and third highest rated product in our relational database category. Oracle DB is currently in its 12th version after churning out periodic updates since its original 1979 release.
The product supports Windows, MacOS and Linux operating systems. Oracle Database 12c includes data and server management automation and a number of proprietary Oracle tools for security, management, reporting and analytics.
What users say: “The new Oracle 12c is always getting updates and patches to improve its functionality and security. It can be used for little, middle, big and very big databases. If you are looking for a new implementation or migrating to Oracle it is worth it. It is a little hard to understand and get knowledge, but after you have it, you will have speed on the queries and security of your data.” — Oracle Database 12c review by an administrator in executive office
4. Amazon Relational Database Service (AWS RDS)
Vendor: AWS User Reviews: 164 Star Rating: 4.4 out of 5.0 stars
Amazon RDS is a cloud-based relational database designed for quick setup and simple scaling. It has supported MySQL since 2009. Today, developers can use existing databases or build new relational databases using Amazon Aurora.
Amazon RDS features are centered around simple development and scaling. RDS includes tools for monitoring, security and cloud budgeting. The product’s highest-rated features on G2 Crowd include backup, storage and availability.
What users say: “Big positive point is the flexibility to use either proprietary or open-source db variants. I have production with MySQL currently but have also implemented Postgres databases with RDS and it certainly was a breeze. The MySQL setups I use are both from a self-managed ETL process and was a total replica of another live service that constantly sends new checkout/customer data into the system.” — Amazon Relational Database Service review by Michael S.
Vendor: PostgreSQL User Reviews: 302 Star Rating: 4.4 out of 5.0 stars
PostgreSQL is a commonly used relational database system that supports Windows, MacOS and many common Linux distributions. It was released in 1996 and delivers ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) compliance and transaction functionality.
PostgreSQL provides tools for full-text search, sub-selection, common table expressions and embedded SQL implementation. Its highest-rated features on G2 Crowd are availability, stability and query language support.
What users say: “Postgres is a powerful database manager that handles large amounts of data. It is fast, easy to install, and comes with a very intuitive graphical interface. I am a web application developer and it has been an important key for my knowledge about base managers. Many times I have to design models and this has been a great help for the successful development of my applications. It's scalable, customizable, and very easy to use.” — PostgreSQL review by Miriam C.
*Please note: Reviews have been edited for spelling, grammar and clarity.
Learn more about database software
If you’re looking for free and open-source database tools, check out our the best open-source and free database software to see information on the highest-rated relational and NoSQL databases that provide free offerings.
Visit our database software categories to find more open-source and proprietary options for the best database tool that will fit your company’s needs. Our database software category also breaks down the differences between data warehouses vs. databases.
As an analyst at G2, Aaron’s research is focused on cloud, application, and network security technologies. As the cybersecurity market continues to explode, Aaron maintains the growing market on G2.com, adding 90+ categories of security technology (and emerging technologies that are added regularly). His exposure to both security vendors and data from security buyers provides a unique perspective that fuels G2’s research reports and content, including pieces focused on trends, market analysis, and acquisitions. In his free time, Aaron enjoys film photography, graphic design, and lizards.