IBM's Informix strategy takes shape

IBM took a big step toward allaying fears about its commitment to the Informix line of database products by releasing an enhanced version of IDS.

The new release, dubbed IDS 9.3, includes advanced spatial analysis capabilities, increased ease of use with bundled tools and enhanced enterprise replication. These features enable IDS customers to increase database efficiency and reduce administration costs, according to IBM.

On the strategic business front, however, the release is as much a symbolic gesture to Informix users by IBM as it is a technical upgrade. Since the completion of IBM's US$1 billion acquisition of Informix in July, analysts have repeatedly speculated about IBM's commitment to the Informix line of products and questioned its ability to support multiple code bases. Many of Informix's 35,000 IDS users have also expressed concern about being "seduced and abandoned" by IBM.

Janet Perna, general manager of data management solutions at IBM Software, put those concerns to rest. "Part of our strategy is to improve the coexistence between IDS and DB2," said Perna. "We think that most customers for new applications will select DB2. So it's important that IDS customer databases co-exist with new DB2 databases."

To facilitate that coexistence, IBM also announced a new version of its Relational Connect tool, which will enable IDS customers to develop applications on DB2 while maintaining their IDS infrastructure, said Perna. The tool allows DB2 to access IDS 9.3 data as if it were in DB2.

Earlier this year, IBM delivered Relational Connect support for Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Sybase Inc. databases. The acquisition of Informix, however, allowed similar work on IDS to be accelerated, said Perna.

Some of the work that went into the new release of IDS, such as enhanced replication support, had been under development at Informix prior to the acquisition, said Perna.

Last month, Perna said IDS 9.4 is already in development and a commitment has been made to develop a Version 9.5.

Ron Flannery, the author of The Informix Handbook, has interviewed dozens of company officials and users. He said his research indicates that support for Informix will continue for a long time.

"IBM knows how to do business, and yanking that support would be suicidal," said Flannery, who is also president of One Point Solutions, an Informix consulting firm in Novi, Mich. "I'm confident that Informix customers will be supported as long as they need it."

James Governor, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., agreed. "IBM certainly didn't buy the Informix installed base just to hand it over to Oracle and Microsoft," said Governor. "IBM will do whatever it takes to keep the installed base happy, and a platform refresh is a pretty good start."

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