Unidata has reinvented itself as an object database company with the acquisition of French software house O2.
It has abandoned plans to join Oracle and Informix in the object-relational market and is now pinning its future on object-only products. Its own planned object-relational product, codenamed Falcon, which was scheduled to ship last month, has now been scrapped, although many elements of the development will appear in the next release of O2.
Terms of the acquisition were not revealed, but EU research body Esprit is likely to retain a nominal stake. This will enable O2 to keep its links to the research world, where it is best known, and will allow Unidata to still bid for EC work, where suppliers are expected to have some European ownership.
The new release of the O2 database, O2 5.0, will ship in October. It effectively combines Falcon and O2's next generation database. The contributions from the Falcon project include interfaces to relational data, a more robust engine design and greater scalability. O2 will now support hundreds of users rather than tens, or thousands using the Web, said UK managing director Kim Lewin.
The ambitious goal that Unidata has set itself is to convince the market that, for applications involving complex data or object code, only an object database will deliver full performance and robustness. "Users will come up against the limits of object extensions to relational databases," said UK managing director Kim Lewin.
This is an argument already used by the most heavyweight supporter of object databases, Computer Associates, which will offer its Jasmine OO product. But Lewin claims there will be greater coexistence with relational data sources with O2 than with Jasmine. "CA will sell object and relational, but not combined, as it says the two data types cannot come together. That will confine it to clean paper projects."
The next development goal is to provide a 'universal object server', allowing a single query to run against relational and object data together, even though they are held separately.
"Oracle will take a huge chunk of the current multimedia market and of the universal server market, for people who basically need relational," argued Lewin. "But there is a performance issue - 30 per cent of a Java application is there to deal with the relational side and without that it can run 10 times faster.
UK marketing manager Ketan Karia added that Unidata was not targeting the multimedia market, the prime focus of current universal server offerings, but sectors using highly complex data types, such as engineering design.
Lewin added that, although the merged operation will keep the Unidata name, the product will retain the O2 label, as "this has pedigree and recognition in the OO market" - although he admitted that, in the UK in particular, there is little recognition of the O2 brand outside a small object community.
To help remedy this, he said Unidata would spend $3 million on a launch campaign for O2 5.0 to help raise awareness in the mainstream. It is currently training its salespeople in O2 and the number of people selling the product in the UK will rise from two to 16. Unidata will shortly start a training and awareness programme among its 600 resellers worldwide to encourage them to offer O2. It will also launch a campaign to lure Sybase and Oracle Vars to its cause.
"We want to take O2 to people who don't currently know who Object Design is - to the real world, in other words," said Lewin.
Unidata formed a technology sharing agreement with O2 two years ago, when it went through a major rethink of its database strategy. At that time, it said it would focus on certain high performance niches for its existing relational product set, and would look for growth in two markets, Web tools and objects. It acquired the Systembuilder range to support the former aim, and O2 will be the basis of the latter.
Although the deal will take months to be finalised under French regulatory law, the companies are already in the process of merging. O2 teams in the UK and US have already moved into Unidata premises and those in France and the German subsidiary will follow. Unidata claimed there will be no job losses. The merger of the teams trebles the salesforce behind the O2 database.
Research group IDC estimates the object database market will grow from $100 million this year to $1.5 billion in 2000, with two-thirds of this going to the object-relational platforms and the rest to object-only.
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