The object-relational wars will move up a gear next month when IBM enters the fray with a new elease of its flagship DB2 product, which the company is positioning as its most significant database announcement in 15 years.
DB2 Universal Database 5.0 will make IBM a third, potentially decisive force in what to date has been a bitter two-way struggle between Oracle and Informix to extend the traditional relational data model into a hybrid market. According to IBM's data management general manager, Janet Perna: "This is the one that will put us ahead."
But although battle will be joined on the object-relational front, IBM appears to have learnt from the bitter experience of Informix and will downplay this aspect of the release in favour of emphasising its claimed extensibility, scalability, access, applications support and ease of use.
Informix made great play of the object-relational nature of its Universal Server product when it was released last December, but was recently forced to admit that the market is not ready for such technology. Oracle is set to add new object oriented features to release 8.1 of its core server which is scheduled to ship in December next year.
Universal Database will have a number of special features, which IBM hopes will differentiate it from the rival offerings. Among them is the Control Centre facility, a graphical database management toolkit for managing, maintaining and modifying database objects. Control Centre can also be programmed to carry out ongoing projects automatically. The Journal is an online ?filofax? system that enables users to pull together disparate sources of personal information to create a fully personalised agenda.
Ease of use will be made into a major selling point, with the company boasting that installation can take place within a few minutes. A feature called Smartguides will then take users through specific tasks by posing questions and offering suggested ways of managing and organising information.
Universal Database comes with multimedia extensions - DB2 Extenders - which enable the database to handle data types that are too complex for the traditional relational model, such as image and audio. Extenders are comparable to the Data Cartridges used by Oracle and Datablades used by Informix.
Informix was badly hurt by an admission from its chief technology officer Michael Stonebraker that Datablades could cause the company?s Universal Server to crash if run too fast. IBM hopes to steer clear of any such controversy by producing end users to testify that Extenders are proven technology.
Among the Extender-enabled projects in place is one at the US Patents Office where 23 years' worth of documents are currently being loaded into the IBM Patent Server. When the project is completed, users will be able to access two million patents over the Internet, courtesy of DB2 Text Extender capabilities.
Elsewhere, the SNET Internet Yellow Pages is making use of both Text Extender and its companion Image Extender to offer potential online advertisers greater flexibility when it comes to choosing the format of their adverts. The application can be tailored to meet the specific needs of a Yellow Pages information provider. They can, for example, amend existing adverts to highlight special offers.
Finally, Yamaha?s Artist Services division has made use of DB2 Audio Extender to create a ?global jukebox?, which can store and deliver music over the Internet with CD-level quality. Users are able to play WAV files to determine whether they wish to download a specific piece of music then pull it off the Internet site.
IBM also hopes to gain favour with the inclusion of file-links, which enable DB2 too access data stored in external file systems and manage it to the security and integrity levels of the IBM product. Analyst firm Database Associates praised this feature of the IBM technology. "Ideally the database should provide the same level of integrity, transaction consistency and backup and recovery for external data as it does for internal data," it notes.
"Storing data in external files is useful for many reason," it explains. "For data that must be streamed to the clinet within a specific time frame in order to be meaningful, such as video frames or audio, it is best to use a specialised server optimised for delivery of such data. Another advantage is the ability to locate the data closer to the application for performance reasons."
While Oracle has made great play of having produced a database that can compete with DB2 in the shape of the recently launched Oracle8, IBM is less keen to get into comparison games, although it is quick to point out that market research firm lists IBM as the number two vendor in the relational database market with a 26 per cent share. Oracle is in first place with 30 per cent and Informix well behind in third place on 10 per cent.
But DB2 Universal Server 5.0 will inevitably be seen in the market as the latest object-relational competitor and as such is likely to be judged relative to Oracle and Informix. Given the dubious customer reaction to such technology to date, there will be those at both of those companies quietly hoping that IBM will be the company which can legitimise this latest database trend.
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