Category Archives: Database

Picking Up Where They Left Off

As the product of M&A, Ascential is one of the few companies that never got over its head intermingling disparate organizations and incompatible technologies. It took awhile, but the company’s shrewd handling of the $1 billion sale of Informix to IBM almost exactly four years ago didn’t hurt. During a period where most ISVs have hemorrhaged red ink, Ascential has mostly been profitable and presently carries nearly a half billion dollars in the bank.

Its main rival, Informatica, initially led in the movement of data to and from relational databases thanks to an engine combining a visual front end with a powerful meta data system that made transformed data transformation from ugly ordeal to a task akin to working with a graphical, object-oriented development tool. By contrast, Ascential’s strength was largely in its ability to move data in and out of mainframe databases. Yet, Ascential’s cash cushion, backed by astute management, provided the company the breathing space to stitch together its products which are far more diverse than Informatica’s.

Four years later, IBM has acquired the portion of Ascential it left behind in the April 2001 Informix deal. It’s a smart move for IBM and Ascential shareholders, who received an 18% premium, and in sharp contrast to IBM’s 2002 fire sale acquisition of Rational (a deal of roughly comparable magnitude). IBM gets a healthy company plus product that fills a clear gap in its data integration portfolio. While IBM has built integration offerings – including business process and integration brokers around WebSphere; collaboration around Lotus; and data federation, content integration, and unified query around DB2 – it’s lacked the ability to handle real-time data staging and integration.

The deal is shouldn’t prove traumatic, given that both already have 4+ years under their belts in joint technology and sales efforts that have yielded roughly 300 joint customers to date. In the short run, the deal should make scant difference to Ascential customers, as there are already multiple integration points with IBM’s DB2 and WebSphere products. It makes more of a difference for IBM, which fills out an obvious gap in its integration portfolio.

It’s rare that we see a deal that’s so logical that we didn’t wonder why it didn’t happen before.

Skeletons and Demons

A few months back, we had an interesting discussion on the history of the relational database (RDBMS) with Oracle VP Ken Jacobs, a guy also known as Mr. DBA. An outgrowth of IBM research, RDBMSs languished until midrange platforms made the idea feasible, creating unexpected openings for startups like Oracle.

A revolutionary notion at the time, RDBMS systems theoretically altered the balance of power, making information more accessible to business analysts. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until the emergence of user-friendly client/server applications that business users could finally do things like write reports without the help of programmers or DBAs.

Over the next 25 years, RDBMS systems scaled up and out. Nonetheless, even today, they still don’t house he world’s largest transaction systems. Go to a bank, call the phone company, file an insurance claim, or scream over a utility bill, and in all likelihood, the data probably came from some tried and true 25-year old legacy system. The growth of RDBMS systems notwithstanding, the truism of 70% of the world’s data residing on legacy systems remains just as valid as ever.

Like Rome, most of the world’s classic transaction systems weren’t built in a day. Attaining such levels of resilience typically took years of trial and error. And, chances are, the minds behind all that resilience are no longer around. Anywhere.

Those systems were opened a bit by the web, which added HTML screen scrapers. Today, with short-term economic uncertainties and long-term upheavals calling for more agile or — dare we say it — real-time enterprises, the need to pry open legacy systems has grown more acute.

Data profiling tool providers, such as Relativity Technologies, and consulting firms, such as offshore outsourcer Cognizant Technologies, have been pushing the notion of legacy renewal for several years. Evidently, their rumblings are being heard. Now IBM Global Services is joining the crowd, announcing new legacy renewal service offerings leveraging the domain knowledge and life cycle tools of its recent PwC Consulting and Rational acquisitions.

What caught our ear was that ROI tools would be part of the mix. While not unusual — vendor ROI tools are pretty common these days for obvious reasons –we wondered, how can you quantify projects like this, which typically have plenty of unknowns. Yes, Y2K projects in general dealt successfully with skeletons in the closet, but in a tighter spending environment, we’ll be interested to see how IBM factors the uncertainties of programmers past.

Boys Will Be Boys

There’s something about the IT industry that causes people-mostly guys-to regress. Go to any Java conference, and you’ll first have to wade through air hockey tables before you can find the exhibit hall or tech sessions. Log onto any IT news group, and it’s easy to mistake yourself inside some locker room.

Or go listen to the grownups of the industry speak.

Late last week, Oracle rolled out 9i, with Larry Ellison spending most of his remarks trash talking IBM. Nobody has ever done clustering because it’s so hard, but 9i’s improved shared-disk architecture performs better than DB2 and is far more fault-tolerant. Showing an SAP ATO (assemble-to-order) benchmark, Oracle claimed 89% scalability on two nodes vs. 34% for DB2 in, and so on. But Oracle concedes that its benchmarks have not yet been officially audited by SAP.

Ellison even tried turning Oracle’s exorbitant pricing into another chance to bash IBM. Yes, Oracle was dumping its hated power unit pricing for CPU, but at $40k/processor for the enterprise version, is still 2x that of DB2 Enterprise Edition. No matter, said Ellison, Oracle throws in things like OLAP, data mining, messaging, security and other features that you have to pay separately for with DB2. Naturally, IBM refutes all this.

But facts aren’t important here. Demos are demos, and any vendor can always skew pricing comparisons. Yes, it’s important that Oracle has improved its clustering. Maybe somebody will finally try this at home. But the real issue is who was Ellison really talking to. DBAs, who trained on a given database, won’t throw out their life’s work lightly. CIOs considering switching must then deal with the mess of replacing their DB2 DBAs with scarce Oracle folks, or vice versa. All this explains why even Sybase has kept its toehold on Wall St.

Database vendors have to try hard to lose their markets. The most important takeaway from last week is that Oracle realized that that was exactly what it was doing with pricing.

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?

IBM WebSphere Finally Supports Mainframe

It’s little surprise that a key ingredient of IBM WebSphere’s success has been its support of existing IBM technologies—especially DB2 databases, plus the availability of bodies from IBM Global Services which has built an e-business practice around WebSphere. If you’re a confirmed IBM shop, WebSphere has long been your logical choice for web-enabling legacy applications.

But until now, running WebSphere on the mainframe was essentially like running a port of an open systems tool in a legacy environment. WebSphere 4.0 for z/OS and OS/390, released this week, adds native support for core mainframe services such as CICS, the transaction monitor that IBM claims runs 40 billion transactions every day. Specifically, WebSphere 4.0 allows Java application developers to plug into these transaction services without having to write custom code. WebSphere 4.0 does the same thing with other established mainframe building blocks such as Parallel Sysplex; IBM’s RACF security and access control programs; and WLM, IBM’s workload manager used for load balancing.

Version 4.0 is also the first release of WebSphere that is officially J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition)-compliant. Not only that, but it’s the “deepest and broadest” implementation of J2EE, claimed Scott Hebner, middleware marketing director for IBM Software. He said that IBM passed more J2EE compliance tests than any other appserver vendor, including all the mandatory tests and 70% of the optional ones run by Sun. For instance, IBM claims that its implementation of JMS (Java Messaging Service, one of the J2EE standards) is more mature than BEA’s, its primary rival in the appserver space. For instance, IBM claims that BEA WebLogic lacks the ability to import transactions originating as MQSeries messages (IBM’s market-leading messaging middleware). BEA was not available for comment at press time.

To place matters into perspective, IBM’s J2EE fervor is rather recent. They admit to being slower in becoming J2EE-compliant than the other Java appserver rivals. “We took a balanced approach to supporting standards since we originally did not believe that J2EE was the only [important] platform,” said Hebner. He claimed that other standards, such as XML-based UDDI and SOAP, were equally important (see adjacent story). Hebner added that WebSphere supported all the J2EE essentials anyway. “We supported EJB 1.1 ‘minus’,” he said. For instance, while IBM supported essential EJB features such as session beans, until now it didn’t support peripheral ones such as XML descriptors. “Our clients weren’t using them [XML descriptors] anyway,” he maintained.

The WebSphere 4.0 announcements were accompanied by an important upgrade to Visual Age, IBM’s umbrella IDE (integrated development environment) used for developing many of the applications that run on WebSphere. For the first time, IBM is finally offering Visual Age as a suite, bundling all languages including C, C++, COBOL, and Java into the same package. In so doing, IBM is following the lead of other tools vendors, such as Microsoft, Rational, Sybase—and just recently, CA.

CA Throws Hat in Development Suites

Application life cycle tools were an afterthought of Computer Associates’ 1999 Platinum acquisition. Ironically, thanks to its acquisitions of Platinum technologies, Sterling Software, and Nantucket (the latter, over a decade ago), CA has accumulated one of the largest application development product portfolios in the business.

Not that anybody noticed—CA included. With the sole exception of Nantucket, none of these acquisitions were driven by application development tools. Platinum was bought for its DB2 tools, while Sterling was acquired for its storage management offerings, both of which neatly complemented CA’s data center products.

This week, CA raised the profile of its application development business with the release of ERwin Modeling Suite 4.0. Don’t let the version number of the product name fool you, this is actually CA’s first attempt to bundle development tools. It’s just that ERwin and Paradigm Plus, the product families included in the suite, both happen to be on their 4.0 release cycles, according to application life cycle brand manager Gregory Clancy. The result is CA’s first serious challenge to market leader Rational.

ERwin modeling suite contains four products, headlined by the ERwin data modeler, the market leader for database designers; plus BPwin, a business process modeler; Paradigm Plus, a UML modeling tool; and the almost brand-new ERwin Examiner, a tool which checks data models for inconsistencies. The products are also sold separately.

Each of these products has significant enhancements. ERwin sports new capabilities for separating logical and physical models. The logical model organizes data into entities, such as “customer” or “product order,” while the physical model maps them into the table and column data structures of relational databases. By separating logical from physical, data models can be spun off for multiple databases, a feature that is useful if an organization has different databases (e.g., Oracle and DB2) and wants to ensure that overlapping data uses the same data structures. Additionally, ERwin has added new model viewing capabilities that provide hierarchical views of data models, a feature that makes it easier to work with larger models.

Other product enhancements include Paradigm Plus’ support of UML 1.3 (the latest version of the object modeling language), XML-based round-trip engineering, and the ability to extend the tool using well-known VBScript or JavaScript. Meanwhile BPwin has added organization chart views and the ability to import bit map graphics—but does not support direct import of Microsoft Visio charts, which many organizations use for illustrating process flows.

So how do these tools integrate? CA is relying on XML to provide an open interface, and for translating data models into UML models, wizards are provided. This differs from Rational’s proprietary hooks, although Rational’s integration is far more ambitious, spanning object modeling, data modeling, testing, requirements management, and configuration management. However, if CA could broaden the XML integration to other tools inherited from the Platinum stable, such as CCC Harvest, it could claim a useful competitive advantage.

ERwin Modeling Suite 4.0 is an important first step for CA to demonstrate that rumors of the attrition of its inherited tools businesses are greatly exaggerated. CA has headroom for product growth, if it follows up by extending the suite to other tools inherited from the Platinum stable, including configuration management.

Clancy conceded that, in the aftermath of the Platinum acquisition, it was often difficult to get the world’s attention on the company’s development products offerings. With the exception of ERwin, none of these products were market leaders. But Clancy adds, these products have “grown significantly” under CA’s watch, noting that channel sales for modeling tools alone grew 344% over the past 16 months (he did not have figures for sales growth via direct or telesales)..

Obviously, integrating data modeling and object/component modeling has long been a holy grail of application development—but does the idea make sense in practice? Database architects and component designers are each jealous of their domains. In most cases, the database predates the application. “Just ignore the other side, data is king,” is a common refrain, according to one industry consultant who has worked both sides of the modeling fence.

The application life cycle market remains fragmented, with market leader Rational, Compuware, Merant, and Computer Associates each offering varying arrays of development and modeling tools. No single vendor offers a complete solution, and until now, only Rational has offered out-of-the-box integration.

The significance of ERwin 4.0 is that CA is finally demonstrating that it is serious in pursuing the development tools business, and that Rational finally has some competition in the suites sector.