The latest round in the object-relational wars broke out on day two of the DB Expo trade show in San Francisco, as industry luminaries resorted to name calling in a debate that was supposedly about 'The Database: 30 Years On?.
Four senior executives from Informix, Microsoft, IBM and Sybase initially debated the progress of the database industry since the 1960s on a stage bedecked with lurid dayglo flower power illustrations, with a moving blow-up of a lava lamp as a backdrop.
But it wasn?t long before the conversation shifted to arguments about whose data model was best.
Jim Gray, senior researcher at Microsoft, argued that the purely object oriented database industry had failed to materialise, but that relational vendors were not responding quickly enough to the opportunities this presented. "Object oriented databases are a flop," he said. "It?s a zero billion dollar industry. But the evolution of the relational database to handle new data types is not quick enough. Most of the objects being created today are not being created in object-relational databases."
He added that the term 'object-relational' was a loose one, and every one of the panellists could say they had such a product. This was too much for Informix chief technology officer Michael Stonebraker, who sneered: "Gimme a break. You [Microsoft] are not object-relational. That?s Dan Quayle trying to be Kennedy!"
His comments were met with both cheers and boos from the audience.
Gray took his revenge a few minutes later with a thinly veiled criticism of Informix? self-confessed over-emphasis on headline grabbing object-relational technology, which contributed to its $140 million loss last quarter. "There are people who want to be cool and people who want to solve problems," he said. "Sometimes they are the same."
Stonebraker turned the conversation towards ease of use. Database use should be as simple as a child?s game, he said, pointing to a game that his own five-year old daughter plays, which has a help and support system that she can understand. "We need that kind of system,"? he said. "We?ve made software that?s incredibly hard to use."
Sybase?s Epstein picked up on this point with an all-too-familiar cliche about computers and telephones. "The target is the telephone," he said. "The telephone system does an excellent job at keeping the complexity out of the way of the end user. I can see the same trends in computing."
IBM fellow Bruce Lindsay - whose long hair and shaggy beard made him the only panel member to seem at home in the mock Summer of Love setting on stage - seemed content to fire off the occasional pot shot at the other speakers, particularly Stonebraker. The IBMer relished pointing out the number of broken promises and undelivered technology in the database industry.
Oracle, which was scheduled to be the fifth panellist, was represented on stage by an empty chair - the company did not exhibit at the show, arguing that it already goes to the biggest database show in the shape of its own Open World. Also absent was Computer Associates, which, given the drubbing that was dealt out to chief operating officer Sanjay Kumar at a similar event at DB Expo last December, was possibly just as well.
Kumar?s ?sin? on that occasion was to argue the case for the traditional relational model while everyone else on stage was clambering on to the object-relational bandwaggon. This heretical thinking has not changed, according to CA?s research and development manager John Ainsworth, who insisted that the company?s Ingres product will remain an unashamedly relational offering.
"The object-relational market has peaked early, but has yet to be proven," he said in an interview with 'VNU Newswire' at this week's show. "Informix got off to a fast start, but that?s stumbled. Oracle 8 was originally going to be object oriented, but it seems to have scaled back on what it means by object oriented."
CA?s strategy will be to offer two distinct products - CA-Open Ingres and a pure object oriented database known as Jasmine. Ainsworth?s argument is that Ingres will provide the relational components of Jasmine, meaning that it is entirely possible in the future that CA customers will be running both products.
Ainsworth dismissed suggestions that CA?s emphasis was now focused on Jasmine and that Ingres would become essentially a maintenance-only product. Release 2.0 of CA-Open Ingres is now in beta with general availability scheduled for next month. The next full release will follow around 18 months to two years later, with at least two point upgrades in between.
The full releases will see changes of an architectural nature as CA adds elements that were neglected during The ASK Group?s ill-fated stewardship of Ingres in the early 1990s. Ainsworth points to the introduction of row level locking as one such project.
The debate ended melodramatically when panel chairman Herb Edelstein of Two Crows consultancy smashed an old PC with a shriek of "relational is dead; long live object-relational." CA?s Ainsworth was more reserved. "It?s very much a wait and see time," he concluded.
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