Informix Software last week tried to pull off a damage repair exercise for its Universal Server strategy as it officially launched the object relational database in full view of 25,000 attendees at the DBExpo trade show in New York.
Universal Server is the main plank of Informix' database strategy for the late 1990s and beyond. It combines traditional relational software with innovative object-oriented technology from Illustra Software, for which Informix coughed up $400 million last December.
But with only weeks to go until general availability, the product is under fire from rivals who claim its performance is questionable and cite the words of Informix's chief technology officer Michael Stonebraker to prove their case.
One of the claims traditionally made for object-oriented databases is that their perfornance can outstrip traditional relational technology.
But, in an astonishing PR gaffe in October, Stonebraker announced that Universal Server might not be safe if run too fast. "You can be fast or you can be safe," he said, adding: "We offer you the choice."
His comments were siezed upon by rival suppliers, including Oracle which now uses them as part of its own marketing presentations. "Don't take our word for it," said Jerry Held, Oracle vice president of servers during an Informix knocking session at Oracle OpenWorld conference last month.
Oracle's own object-oriented product - Oracle8 - is unlikely to ship before the middle of next year. At the official launch of Universal Server, Informix cites the exepriences of early users of the product in an attempt to regain the initiative. Some 30 companies have been testing the product for for the past two months, although the overwhelming majority of these are third party developers producing plug-in software modules - or Datablades - for the engine. But there are known to be five end-user beta testers: Sabre, General Dynamics, Bass Pro Shop, GEIS and BT.
Elsewhere at DBExpo Computer Associates' chief executive Charles Wang delivered a keynote address on "Multimedia, Objects and the Web: The Database Solution". Later in the week, senior executives from Sybase, Informix, IBM, Microsoft and CA locked horns over the issues facing the industry in "The Great Database Debate".
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