AS/400 joins the universal database realm

IBM is now offering a version of its DB2 Universal Database (UDB) for the AS/400 platform, allowing enterprise users access to more types of data.

This new functionality includes access to object-oriented, relational and cross-platform data, which is the earmark of a universal database. It will also permit Java-based access to AS/400 data with no special programming, said Van Symons, AS/400 business intelligence executive at IBM in Dallas. Although IBM had ported DB2 UDB to Windows NT, a host of Unix platforms and to OS/390, this is the first time UDB has been available for the AS/400, he said.

Other features include support for SQLJ, which allows developers to embed SQL calls in server-based Java applications; enhanced JDBC support; and a new query optimiser.

Parallel backup and recovery is another key feature, Symons said.

"So now we can use many tape drives to back up a single file all at one time. That allows us to approach a terabyte kind of a backup in a little over a lunch-hour."

The query optimiser includes a new index structure for business intelligence optimisation called encoded vector indexes, which are used in a query-intensive environment to dramatically reduce query times, he said.

"If you had one single, very large file, then this [gives users] the ability to apply all resources to that specific task. People could do it (before), but they had to do things manually to work around that restriction. So this just provides greater sophistication in the very large environments," Symons said.

Also, unlike its predecessors, which were strictly relational databases, DB2 UDB is capable of handling data stored both in relational and object formats. This object-relational design allows it to handle so-called complex or unstructured data, like pictures, and audio and video clips.

According to Frank Gillett, analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the announcement signifies "the technology that [IBM] deemed important for the rest of the world has now finally caught up with the AS/400 platform."

Gillett said the AS/400 was fundamentally a character-based system before people started doing graphical interfaces in enterprise computing. "So what IBM is doing now is figuring out how to shoehorn in cool features that we are used to now in a Windows and Internet world," he said.

Reduced query times is another reason the DB2 UDB for AS/400 is significant, he noted.

"Query optimisation is boring but important stuff that database administrators care about because it lets them either spend less time managing the database, or give faster response to users."

John Carlee, manager of business intelligence at Sara Lee Casualwear in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said his company recently consolidated work from six different NT servers onto a single AS/400. He said by using the DB2 UDB on this platform, administrators can analyze data directly, rather than spending most of their consolidating the information.

"So instead of writing applications to watch other applications, now we just write applications," he said. "Since moving to the AS/400, we have reduced our data warehouse backup time to 20 minutes; we used to schedule eight hours for backups."

Ken Harvey, president of Thornhill, Ont.-based consultancy CSP by Ken Harvey, said now that DB2 for AS/400 is a UDB, its applications are much more portable, so that an application written in one form can be written on another.

"So it diffuses that whole 'am I wasting money developing on what I've got' question. It lets people choose the hardware platform they run their DB2 applications on for other reasons that make sense other than 'what was it developed for.'" Harvey cited a recent Dataquest study naming IBM as the top database company, beating out Oracle for the first time in years, and said this latest announcement will strengthen its position even further.

"It used to be, if you wanted a database that had the flexibility of anywhere, Oracle was the only game in town. And that's not true anymore."

New purchases of AS/400 servers include the OS/400 V4.4 operating system, which includes DB2 UDB (www.as400.ibm.com/db2/db2main.htm). Existing OS/400 (V2 and V3) customers can upgrade to the current OS, including DB2 UDB. Upgrade prices are machine model dependent, ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. IBM's OLAP engine for data analysis, called the DB2 OLAP Server, is also being ported to the AS/400 platform and a version of the DB2 OLAP Server for the OS/390 platform is in beta now. Both are expected to ship in the second half of 1999.

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