IBM Buys Informix

Make no mistake about it, IBM’s $1 billion cash purchase of Informix was strictly a play about market share and nothing else. Citing Dataquest and IDC numbers, IBM claimed that the acquisition of Informix would double IBM’s share in what analysts termed the “distributed database” market, which is another way for saying UNIX and NT

Throughout their conference calls with press and analysts, IBM’s Janet Perna, who heads IBM’s Data Management Solutions group, repeatedly made references to the database “war” with Oracle. “We are making great strides,” she noted, citing numbers such as IBM’s 36% growth in this market space, vs. Oracle’s 6% last quarter. As if there were any doubts whom this was aimed at, Perna dismissed Microsoft as a “one-trick pony” in the market since SQL Server is limited to Windows platforms

Prior to the deal, the database market was already consolidating down to three main players: IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft. Once-mighty Sybase and Informix, along with CA-Ingres, the earliest also-ran, have effectively become peripheral players. In effect, the IBM/Informix deal changes few dynamics in the marketplace. Where there were previously three and two-quarters players, we’re now down to three and a quarter

Instead the deal looks like a cash-rich salvage operation. IBM, whose latest quarterlies have shined in contrast to most other tech players, could easily afford a billion dollars of pocket change to buy installed base. IBM has pledged to continue supporting Informix databases, but firmly stated that new development would continue to center on DB2. Yes, IBM will cherry pick some Informix technologies, including selected DataBlades, but their new home will be DB2

The message to Informix customers? Should you consider migrating to a more “mainstream” database that has the most current technology, the obvious path will be DB2, not Oracle. Given that Informix has lacked the market share and resources to keep up with the Joneses—its Arrowhead effort to converge relational, object, and analytic database technologies was years behind IBM’s—the Informix installed base has been ripe for the taking. And, given that database migrations are never trivial—if you replace the database, you may as well replace (or heavily retrain) the DBAs—IBM is going out of its way to pre-empt inroads from Oracle

As for what’s left of Informix, Ascential, it bears striking resemblance to the old Ardent. Except that it is now $1 billion richer, and the proud bearer of a juicy deal for IBM to codevelop and resell its products. Guess who’s smiling now?