Big Blue deal alerts Oracle, MS

IBM spent a cool US$1 billion in cash last week to buy Informix Software in an attempt to delve deeper into the Unix and Windows database markets. Big Blue has also put competitors Oracle and Microsoft on alert.

In response, Oracle quickly clarified that the announcement date for its forthcoming Oracle 9i database is May 15, according to a source close to the company. "We'll ship it in the first half of the year," the source said.

Janet Perna, general manager of IBM's data management unit, said that IBM's DB2 Universal Database (UDB) will continue as the foundation and that specific Informix technologies, such as Datablades and analytical capabilities, will be integrated into DB2. Since it split itself into a database vendor and an applications company last September, Informix has been touting Arrowhead, a consolidation of its database collection into one or two products.

"DB2 UDB will be the project we enhance moving forward, and the Arrowhead project will be replaced with DB2," Perna said.

Perna added that the acquisition strengthens Big Blue's position against Oracle and Microsoft. But a Microsoft official questioned the move.

"It's not as if they are buying a lot of complementary technology," said Steve Murchie, group product manager for SQL Server, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's database.

Informix users had mixed reactions.

"The actual merger is going to help Informix customers to build on the technology of IBM," said Lloyd Wilson, president of Cemnas, a developer of a Java-based KM (knowledge management) application for Informix databases, and president of the Informix User Group of Canada.

Bruce Simms, IS director at The Frick Co., said some members of the St. Louis Informix User Group are skeptical. Simms is a member of that group's steering committee. "I guess the concern is that they're going to take the good out of Informix, shove it in DB2, and drop Informix," he said.

IBM officials said that the company will not abandon the Informix user base. "Our goals are twofold: to enhance DB2 [and to] maintain what the Informix customers have as long as they need it," said Jeff Jones, senior program manager of data management solutions at IBM.

Mike Schiff, an analyst at Current Analysis, said that IBM needs to provide a road map to reassure customers that it will avoid "the Informix curse" of too many niche-specific databases, which confused customers. "That hurt Informix," he said.

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