Modernizing Your Btrieve/ Pervasive.SQL Database


Learn how to migrate legacy software and modernize applications quickly and easily with a solution that converts Btrieve and P.SQL databases to work with SQL.


You’ve probably heard the saying “stick to what you know.” But what are you missing out on by using outdated databases that don’t meet the demands of today’s data-intensive business climate?

Many independent software vendors (ISVs) and corporate end users still use legacy applications developed in COBOL, Magic, and other programming languages, which use database systems like DataFlex, Btrieve, and Pervasive SQL.

These systems use the Indexed Sequential Access Method (ISAM), as opposed to the relational method employed by newer databases. Between the stability, familiarity, and speed of such data storage/retrieval services – not to mention the extensive code rewrites such a move can entail – it’s not surprising that some companies aren’t eager to migrate their data.

However, with the increasing need for security and data integrity (plus tighter integration with newer applications), companies using legacy applications and database systems will have to modernize to meet the demands of their customers and users.

These demands not only put such companies at a competitive disadvantage, they also raise risks and make it harder to recover in the case of data loss and code corruption. To make matters even more difficult, Btrieve has increased its licensing costs, adding to the pain for businesses that have yet to adapt.

With security, reliability, and scalability increasingly becoming concerns that ISAMs can’t address, you need a solution that provides the ability to maintain data integrity and implement business rules enterprise-wide – without having to make drastic changes to your application or starting over from scratch.

5 Reasons You Need to Modernize Your Database

If you’re still using Btrieve or another Pervasive SQL system, you’ve probably already thought about making the switch to a more mainstream database. As you’re weighing your options, however, your business is facing serious technical risks and competitive disadvantages.

Again, keep in mind that these concerns aren’t just specific to Btrieve – if you’re using any of these legacy applications or database systems, you’re either already aware of their disadvantages or looking to be proactive:

BTrieve Pervasive Cobol magic DataFlex

1) Compatibility

As a legacy database system, Btrieve won’t work with most industry-standard integrations. This not only limits the applications you’re able to build, it also limits your client base. Many organizations won’t even consider buying an application not based on a mainstream SQL database. 

As systems handle more and different types of data, the ability to implement business rules enterprise-wide has become increasingly important. If you’re still using an ISAM style database, expect increased resistance from prospective and current customers alike as time goes on.

» Learn More in Blog: A Compatibility Error Scenario

2) Competition

As programmers move on, Btrieve’s lack of brand recognition leaves you at a competitive disadvantage. Continuing to use a database that many developers consider outdated restricts your access to new applications and limits your talent pool of developers. 

Keep in mind that companies aren’t simply following trends – as legacy applications fade away, continuing to use them makes it harder to create new tools and harder to recover from potential problems.

3) Expertise

Btrieve’s expertise base is steadily shrinking, making it difficult to find people who speak its language and harder to troubleshoot issues.

If you’re still using a Btrieve or Pervasive SQL system, you immediately face the dilemma of working with developers who are less up-to-date on more mainstream systems. And it bears repeating that cutting yourself off from the latest generation of developers also means cutting yourself off from business prospects.

» Is Btrieve Still a Valuable Skill? 9 Legacy Programming Skills Still in Demand

4) Security

Lacking encryption or data-masking abilities, systems that run on Btrieve are at high risk for security breaches and noncompliance. Moreover, with fewer and fewer developers fluent in Btrieve, what happens in the case of a problem with your data? 

The European Union recently implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to enforce standards for data collection and storage. The regulations also put into place fines of up to $22 million USD for noncompliance. Now more than ever, companies must be proactive about security to avoid these steep consequences.

Unlike SQL databases, ISAMs like Btrieve allow direct access to data via the operating system’s file manager, making unauthorized access a constant possibility. And while a SQL conversion can be costly, an ISAM database failure can cost far more in time, resources, and money than simply being proactive about such a scenario.

5) Cost

The costs of a potential database failure don’t take into account expenses related to licensing costs. As fewer companies use Btrieve, its licensing fees have steadily gone up in an attempt to offset the decline in popularity. 

For instance, while the base licensing fees for a Pervasive SQL v7 50-user system cost $2,500, the most recent version of the same product (Actian Zen v14) cost $7,430. This increasing overhead hurts your bottom line while adding little value.


With customers increasingly willing to work only with the latest database systems and programming languages, continuing to use a legacy application is an immediate red flag for potential leads. Creating new business starts with staying competitive.

Ensuring that you're using an up-to-date system also gives you the opportunity to reassure current customers that you're taking proactive steps toward innovation. Customer data will be more secure, and they'll benefit from new tools you'll be able to program thanks to your improved integration with modern technologies.

Common Migration Scenarios

Virtually any business that manages data or makes use of web applications can benefit from modernizing their outdated system to a more mainstream database. However, two scenarios are particularly common in today’s climate.

Scenario 1:

A corporate end user looking to modernize from an outdated or inherited system.
Scenario 1

Scenario 2:

An ISV struggling to find programmers or customers who are willing or able to work with your system.
Scenario 2

Scenario 1:

In many cases, corporations use Btrieve simply because they’re used to it.

Sometimes, they might not have the developer know-how to realize how to switch. While those databases may have been a good option 20 years ago, ongoing issues with integration, competition, and cost make it unlikely they still are the best option.

Scenario 2:

Finding a solution, however, requires more than simply installing a new piece of software – testing, deployment, and training are all involved as well, not to mention the ensuing code rewrites. As you’ll see below, starting over from scratch is rarely an appealing option.

Additionally, corporations that have their data scattered across disparate databases also face difficulties in using business analysis and reporting tools that are increasingly important from a corporate perspective.

Scenario 1:

When a company is decades old, programmers may still be working with the legacy applications that their applications were originally built on.

Between the struggle to find knowledgeable developers and the restrictions that legacy systems put on sales teams, however, such companies face a number of dilemmas.

Scenario 2:

From a sales side, current customers who are eager for the features and capabilities that SQL makes available will push for new tools and wonder why you can’t deliver. On the other side, with 90% of customers for database servers choosing a SQL-based solution, finding new business will be increasingly difficult.

In the meantime, your system’s lack of industry-standard integrations will limit your ability to develop new applications and features. While the prospect of overhauling your system and retraining your programmers is financially and logistically daunting, it can easily seem as if ISVs face an “all or nothing” scenario.

Your Options - All or Nothing


Reworking your system in its entirety is a long, complicated, and costly process that can involve rewriting thousands of lines of code.

Rewriting your system to use a more mainstream database is difficult and time-consuming even for the most experienced developers. Moreover, the process inevitably introduces the possibility of errors, which can further exacerbate costs and timelines.

For instance, estimating that a typical programmer can write 25 to 30 lines of production-quality code in a day, a 1,000-line code rewrite alone could easily mean a full 40-hour workweek dedicated to rewriting – not to mention the costs of employing a code architect and undergoing extensive testing. 

This option also has serious drawbacks for your customers. Beyond the possibility of something going wrong with their data, full conversions necessitate an “on-off” approach. Needing to ensure your new system is ready before you completely turn off the old one creates an adoption delay – an in-between period in which you’ll need to support both systems.


Faced with the daunting prospect of full migration, it’s understandable that developers and end users alike might want to avoid costly rewrites and stick to their current system. However, remaining with a less mainstream database also means limited integration with other systems and a slower pace of innovation.

With your competitors able to offer superior compatibility and security, and the expertise base for your database shrinking, your business will be fighting a losing battle against both competitors and the clock.

3 Tips for Choosing the Right Strategy



Your solution will be most efficient and cost-effective if you’re able to use as much existing code as possible within your SQL-based relational databases. The same goes for existing applications, which you shouldn’t have to wait to continue using or to develop further.



While using Btrieve guarantees incurring considerable licensing fees, Microsoft and Oracle both provide free versions of their SQL databases. This means there’s no need to go all-in with a large financial investment from the start.



Moving to a mainstream database doesn’t just earn you brand recognition. Microsoft and Oracle, which together have an 80% market share, both have the capital to invest in their product. That leaves open more possibilities for creating new applications or enhancing old ones.

» Learn More in Blog: How and When Should I Use MS SQL?

The Cloud - Benefits and Challenges for Businesses

The cloud offers unparalleled scalability, flexibility, and security for data storage and retrieval. This puts companies using legacy systems at a practical and a competitive disadvantage, as systems like Btrieve are incompatible with the cloud-based applications that are so crucial to today’s business landscape.

Before you start building and enhancing those APIs (application program interfaces), you’ll need to move to the cloud. However, much like the all-or-nothing dilemma involved in modernizing to a mainstream database, this process entails a number of hurdles:

  • Complex Re-engineering – Breaking a monolithic app into microservices makes your transformation process more complicated.
  • Lack of Expertise – Many companies do not have programmers skilled in the re-development of an API-driven architecture.
  • Need for Hybrid Cloud – On-premises systems must work seamlessly with new cloud apps, especially for ISVs that have to support both.

To take advantage of all the cloud has to offer, you’ll have to ensure that your new database maintains its compatibility with both systems and that your programmers don’t have to spend precious time learning a new language or re-coding your applications.

The Solution You Haven't Considered

You need an option that brings all the complexities of a modern database to that same decades-old Btrieve/P.SQL system – a “middle way” between all-or-nothing solutions. With Mertech’s BTR2SQL migration tool, your codebase stays the same – not only do you eliminate the need for code rewrites, but it all takes less than five minutes.



Ensure you have up-to-date DDF Files (or create them) with BTR2SQL’s pre-migration tools.



Use the BTR2SQL migration tool to make the database SQL-readable.



Deploy Mertech’s powerful DLL in place of your Btrieve DLL to easily run your old system in SQL.


It’s really that simple. Over 9,000 companies on five continents have saved millions of dollars by using data migration tools and high-performance database drivers from Mertech – all without having to rewrite a single line of code.

» Watch a BTR2SQL Sample Migration

The Benefits


  • Fast and Easy Migration:
    Btrieve-based applications are operable with SQL and Btrieve concurrently, which means no rewriting, no “code freezes,” and no disruption to your customer’s database access.
  • Data Consolidation:
    The scalability that SQL offers means no more correlating data across multiple databases – all your Btrieve files can now exist on a single corporate-wide database.
  • Faster Reporting:
    Access to SQL-based tools means access to better reporting and analytic services, a crucial aspect of today’s business climate.
  • Heightened Compatibility:
    Access data from other applications and gain access to new features for your customers.
  • Lower Costs:
    Users can continue to use familiar applications and explore new ones with no retaining costs and minimal added expenses.


  • Cut Down Timelines:
    Run existing applications on SQL immediately without costly processes for code rewrites, testing, and deployment. Even better, you don’t have to retrain your programmers.
  • Access New Business:
    Gain the flexibility to continue supporting Btrieve-based applications while offering solutions for both Btrieve and SQL-based databases.
  • Speed and Reliability:
    Mertech’s high-performance drivers ensure that all translated functions are optimized to work with a SQL-based backend, and you gain access to SQL-based tools as well.


Bank of America

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Bank of America

William Stucky & Associates (WSA) works with over 400 prominent banks and commercial finance institutions to produce the most widely used asset-based lending and factoring software in the industry. When Bank of America approached WSA to assist in its move from Btrieve to an Oracle database, both parties knew they weren’t interested in the complications of a complete code overhaul. But the idea of starting over from scratch wasn’t appealing either.

Mertech’s BTR2SQL Driver quickly emerged as the clear choice for enabling WSA’s partnership with Bank of America to continue. Thanks to Mertech’s help, a project that was estimated to take over 4,000 hours of developer time (not including the inevitable extra time for testing and troubleshooting) was completed in just a few short months.

Our transition and testing phases were very smooth. Whenever we hit a snag, the Mertech support people were right there with the answer.”
– Bill Stucky, President, WSA 

Mertech’s migration automatically relays Btrieve-based commands to Bank of America’s new Oracle service, in a language that database understands, and with no need for code rewrites. Mertech’s team continued to work closely with WSA throughout the testing phase, resulting in the improved performance, greater scalability, and enhanced reporting that Bank of America now enjoys.

Download the Case Study

CDK Global

Download the Case Study


CDK Global provides integrated technology and digital marketing solutions to over 27,000 auto dealerships around the world. The Dealership Management System (DSM) that it used to handle customer data, however, was built back when COBOL and Btrieve were industry-standard systems. Consequently, CDK’s customers kept asking for new features and ease of access the company couldn’t offer.

The prospect of overhauling their system to work with SQL seemed daunting, especially since they suspected the process would require extensive changes to their application. But Mertech’s BTR2SQL tool proved these assumptions wrong. After CDK reached out, a task they’d been ready to budget thousands of hours and millions of dollars for ended up taking a fraction of the time.

It seemed impossible to imagine running our application with SQL without spending millions of dollars over several years of development. But with Mertech, we went live after just three months of testing.”
– Dan Zabowski, Sr. Director of Research and Development, CDK Global 

Because CDK opted to run BTR2SQL without creating Btrieve Data Dictionary Files, they would also need to convince their customers to start using the SQL-enabled version of CDK’s app as soon as possible, as the two versions could not share the same backend database. Within a year, CDK’s continued reliability and increased flexibility had convinced all of their customers to make the switch.

Not only did CDK reinvigorate their customer relationships with this innovative move, they also cut their licensing costs, leaving them with more resources to pursue an even wider client base.

Download the Case Study

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