Enterprise -> Technology
By: David Norfolk, Practice Leader - Development, Bloor Research
Published: 8th April 2008
Copyright Bloor Research © 2008
The world knows that the world runs on Oracle, DB2 and SQL server—that part of the world that doesn't know that "everything" runs on MySQL, anyway. In fact, of course, life isn't that simple. What the "world knows" isn't the complete picture and there are many other databases (including industrial-strength Open Source relational competitors for the likes of Oracle) with extremely loyal customer bases.
Just now, I want to talk about only one of these alternative databases (sorry, IMS, Teradata, Pervasive, Postgres, Pervasive, SQLBase and others too numerous to mention): reports of the death of Informix IDS as a useful platform for database developers seem to be much exaggerated.
Of course, some of the impression that IDS was on the way out was IBM's own doing—it was going to be merged with DB2. However, as Philip Howard of Bloor has pointed out here; and as was confirmed to us by Jerry Keesee, (an ex Informix employee; now director of Informix engineering at IBM), that was then—the policy has changed.
According to Keesee, who executes the strategic direction for the IBM Informix products, there have been no plans to merge IDS and DB2 since IBM management in the area changed: "Both IDS and DB2 are great technologies", he says, rather as you might expect. However, there is lots of 2-way cross fertilisation going on (compression, for example, is something that DB2 has and IDS doesn't yet, but it's now on the IDS roadmap).
The positioning seems to be that DB2 is for datawarehousing and mixed-mode transaction processing (that is, for systems where datawarehouse and online transaction processing—OLTP—work runs against the same database; which we think will be the accepted norm in future). Informix IDS is for high-performance OLTP, especially in embedded (integrated) environments—because it is scalable, reliable, easy to manage and performs well. This still sounds like overlap to us (DB2 isn't that hard to manage) but presumably it will reassure existing (and new) customers in Informix's traditionally strong sectors: retail, telco, govt, banking and gaming applications.
One of the big IDS retail customers, Keesee told us, started to plan for a move off IDS at the time of the IBM takeover but has now just bought IDS 11—because it couldn't find anything that could replace it. Keesee says, "I believe that IDS was designed from the ground up to support distributed environments where there are hundreds or thousands of branches requiring remote data servers. We have examples of customers running tens of thousands with less than 10 DBAs".
There's a new focus in IDS on Availability, largely using its remote standalone secondary server capabilities. From one to many secondary servers can now either be co-located or operated remotely at a contingency recovery site. Auto or manual failover is available and its shared disk secondary server facility allows one copy of the data to be accessed by multiple database servers. Nevertheless, high availability still needs some advance thought, of course; although Keesee claims that with Informix, this is all in the planning stage, and not a continuing, operational, cost of ownership.
Now to our main interest in IDS; it certainly doesn't appear to be a dead-end as far as development goes. It now has new checkpointing and isolation facilities, the sort of things that are key to enterprise operations. There's a new Data Studio which delivers what seems to be a database-centric Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) environment, supporting both IDS and DB2 and, soon, competing databases (but probably not U2, IMS etc., which is a pity). Worth noting, too, is the Solid in-memory database acquisition. We anticipate good synergy with IDS, rather as TimesTen integrates with Oracle, as a very smart cache for real time applications, but Informix was still evaluating the potential of this when we were originally talking with Keesee. Now, however, he tells us that he expects to see the first IDS/Solid offering in 2008, with an initial focus on the real-time aspects of telco billing (using IDS to integrate this with monthly billing).
There's a new SQL-based Admin API for IDS—for developers, especially ISV partner developers. And a new Open Source OpenAdmin tool is written in php: Informix is really trying to capture developer hearts and minds, which (these days) means being receptive to modern "Agile" languages and Open Source principles. Informix's message to new applications developers and new ISVs is underlined with a free developer edition—that's also available on the Mac. Mac OSX is seen as a cross-platform development opportunity, especially for new developers in the entertainment space.
We think (having an IBM database background ourselves) that's there's a lot to be said for developers specialising in niche enterprise databases. There's usually plenty of work and limited competition; while, if you are properly trained in database fundamentals instead of the cosmetics of a single product, your skills are really very portable (for example, we think our experience with IBM's IMS hierarchical database gives us insights into issues that will affect XML data stores).
Similarly, organisational management needn't be too concerned about being reliant on IDS (beyond the usual levels of risk assessment / management and contingency planning, of course; even being reliant on a market leader involves some risk). IDS is apparently managing double digit growth and increasing its ISV partnerships—check out the Bell Micro City community site. The latest IDS open beta was lunched at Linux world last year and shipped in May. Its "Cheetah 2" release has been in open beta since February 2008 and completes the IDS story—for now....
Posted: 8th April 2008 | By Ian Michael Gumby :
Its interesting. The term isn't "ex-Informix" but "heritage Informix" when describing an Informix employee that has been captured by the borg. ;-)
In discussions over drinks with a couple of IDS community members, the php tool isn't really a good idea, as much as it is a good hack. (Sorry Steve M, but that's the truth.)
You also miss out on the extensibility aspect of IDS. Also with the real time loader datablade, IDS has had the ability to create its own "in-memory" tools for the past several years, albeit, this feature has never been exploited.
Finally, you act as if the overlap is a bad thing. It isn't. Both the latest IDS release and DB2 are written to have DRDA access, so that if you write an application to the DRDA spec, you can easily access either database.
And as to the examples of multiple, and I mean many, dbs controlled by a limited number of DBAs... yes, there is one, but if I told you, I would have to kill you and face being killed myself. ;-)
Posted: 9th April 2008 | By David Norfolk :
Thanks for your comments. In a short article there isn't room to cover everything and it sounds like DRDA could merit an article in itself. You say: "if you write an application to the DRDA spec, you can easily access either database" but that is easy to say and the devil is often in the detail (I can remember when SQL promised database interoperability). However, since IBM is a sponsor of DRDA in the Open Group and owns both databases, it should work! I don't think I said whether any overlap was good or bad, but it might confuse some people.
Posted: 18th April 2008 | By Data By Design :
Informix is perpetually doomed to obscurity. As long as IBM owns it, it remains owned, never to succeed, since IBM can't market something that would ultimately shine brighter than DB2. Informix, always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
DB2 is a great database in its own right, but it _is_ IBMs' flagship database, and thusly why it must be allowed to succeed, and Informix must not. True, Informix has taken benefit from being brought forward with a lot of great new features, some borrowed from DB2, but most likely these new features will never catch on in the mainstream market because Informix can never be allowed to catch on in the mainstream market. It just ain't gonna happen. True, a few, ( read handful ) of customers still exist for Informix.
In the course of time a complete generation of Information Technology people have grown up in the IT market not even knowing Informix existed or exists today. Informix Standard Engine is the peer equivalent of MySQL, but nobody knows about that.
So why won't Informix succeed?
First, there are no bench marks. Second there is little to no developer program. Third, there is little if any media coverage. Fourth, there is no marketing. So how will a product, database or other, ever succeed in the market if it is not marketed or these other basics never developed? No market buzz. No new generation of developers. No passion in the few bread crumbs of marketing.
Informix is destined to end up on the scrap heap of superior technology that never went anywhere, floundering in a sea of lost opportunities, and no vision from its caretakers.
IBM needs to sell off Informix to allow it to leap forward. Now that Informix has a lot of new features, the time is ripe to allow it to flourish, out from under the oppressive, idiotic thumb of IBM and its legion of incompetent managers. IBM sycophants and corporate politicians will never allow Informix to grow in the market, it just ain't gonna happen, either through deliberate attempts to sabotage its success, or through plain incompetence.
Informix: The Database With Invisibility Built In.
Posted: 18th April 2008 | By David Norfolk :
Well, I can see where Data by Design is coming from, but I'm not ure that its POV isn't just a little overstated, these days anyway.
One of the clues to the state of maturity in IT is the religious levels of fervour, pro and against, particular products and vendors attract. Surely we should be concentrating on business outcomes, not the tools? All of which are miles better than I had when I was a DBA.
But Informix is a fine database and you have read about it here, at least :-)
Posted: 22nd April 2008 | By Idiotic Thumb :
As one of IBMs “ legion of incompetent managers” I feel I am in a unique position to comment upon “ Data by Designs” eloquent, but no longer valid, requiem for Informix.
I freely admit that it has taken some time for IBM to exploit the unique and compelling proposition that the Informix database, in particular the Informix Dynamic Server ( IDS), can offer to our customers, and how best to position and promote this effectively. I believe that we are increasingly rectifying this situation, resulting in double digit revenue growth for the last two years , much of which has come from new partnerships and new customers.
IBM is a large and very conservative company with a reputation built upon trust. From the first day of Informix becoming an IBM product the Informix customers gained a level of future-proof security they had never enjoyed throughout the commercially turbulent years of company independence and would be unlikely to match should "Data By Designs" suggestion that we set Informix free come to pass.
IBM has invested more in the ongoing development of IDS than was ever the case before and, as David Norfolk agrees, it continues to remain a technology leader, if not a market leader. ( so more fool us at IBM for leaving the best weapon in the arsenal hidden away for so long and letting Larry and Bill get rich from inferior, inefficient databases ).... those that knew the secret of Informix have continued to invest in the “ competitive edge” that IDS gives their companies and many are quite delighted that their commercial rivals are blissfully ignorant of how much money they are wasting on excessive hardware and legions of DBAs.
IDS, as a technology, has a cast iron future, but what are we at IBM doing to address the truth that IBM alone is not the ideal vehicle to evangelise this “ secret gem “ of a database to a new generation of Information Technology people?
“Data by Design” suggests Benchmarks, Media coverage, Marketing and Developer programmes, all of which are being increasingly delivered. There is , however , a strategy that transcends and encompasses all of the above and harks back to the policies that put Informix on the map in the first place 25+ years ago...... The Channel ! ( After all, however stunning Informix is as a database it is next to useless without an application on top !) .
The Informix Renaissance programme was succesfully piloted last year with BellMicro in the UK ( see link in the original article) and is now being rolled out across Europe. This programme acknowledges that the right distributors , adequately funded by the vendor, can deliver highly focussed attention to a specific market opportunity with an agility that a company as broad and complex as IBM simply cannot. In effect we have said “ adopt Informix, treat it as your own, do what is right and sensible to take a new generation of Informix based solutions to market and know that you , your partners and your customers have the full weight of IBM behind you”.
If you seek Informix specific Benchmarks, Media coverage, Marketing and Developer programmes do look at BellMicros www.informixcity.com micro site, or if you are outside of the UK ask your IBM office who is the focussed Informix distributor for your geography.
I assure you IBM “ gets it” about Informix, and with the help of our channel is helping an ever increasing number of application vendors and ultimately end users to “ get it” too.
Posted: 23rd April 2008 | By David Norfolk :
Nice to get some balance in the comments :-)
Readers can make up their own minds on whether IBM understands Informix - but things do change....
Posted: 23rd April 2008 | By Data By Design :
Obviously you are in the UK, noting how you spell certain words, so I can only come to the conclusion that you don't know how Informix was before it fell from grace in the USA. Informix was at the top of its game before the antics of Phil White and then the follow on dot-bomb antics of Bob Pinocchio and his legion of greed that robbed the company.
Informix DEVELOPERS were the key to Informix's original growth not just channel partners pushing product. DEVELOPERS built the base, not channel partners. All channel partners do is push product, but they can't push something nobody is using or DEVELOPING.
Informix 4GL was the key. You're right, databases need applications. But you're only going to get a few channel partners excited if there are already applications! It doesn't work if you don't have a large number of developers pushing into the market. This is how Microsoft works, Oracle, and all the rest.
Get a REAL MARKETING PROGRAM going WITHOUT DB2.
Get a REAL DEVELOPER PROGRAM going WITHOUT DB2. This means putting out the full enterprise version out there for download by anyone. If they want support then they pay for it. You don't have to open source it, just make it available without a time bomb or making people pay up front for it. Oracle does this, same for Microsoft. True, you have a developer ( crippled ) version, but you need to get the real deal out there so the broadest, widest possible audience of developers can get it and start learning it and using it.
You are wasting one opportunity after the next. Stop wasting opportunities and stop wasting time. You have what, 4 or 5 success stories out on the web? That is hardly a success story. Telling people about Walmart or one or two other corporate customers is not success, it's limping along, saying nothing.
GET TO WORK!
Posted: 24th April 2008 | By IDSAdmin :
IDS 11 Cheetah Developer Edition is free, no time bomb and no other limits. Up to 20 concurent sessions only. IDS Developer Edition is free for developers.
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