Getting a database to serve its community

Kingsley Idehen had planned to become a genetic engineer. But when he wound up in the business world he became fascinated with IT infrastructure.

A formative influence, Informix intrigued Idehen with its ability to pull information from a database and pump it into a spreadsheet.

After he mastered Xenix, SQL, and Informix’s Uniplex business software, Idehen began to see what was wrong: the vendors didn’t understand the business problems their products were meant to solve. So he became a programmer in the late 1980s and, before long, was working for Unisys as a database integration expert.

He was working with the Progress database; Progress has a rich language and an environment for creating business applications, although other databases such as Oracle and Informix were more popular. Database middleware was the missing link.

With his new drivers, Idehen demonstrated using Excel on Windows and on the Mac at a show in Munich, Germany, in 1992. Idehen found the opportunity that would eventually launch OpenLink Software.

At the same time, Microsoft’s evangelisation of ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) was taking root. Whereas ODBC got a bad rap for being slow, OpenLink built a reputation for making high-performance drivers. Idehen still wasn’t satisfied, because ODBC could only connect to one database at a time. As the Web emerged, it became clear that businesses would increasingly need to connect to many different data sources.

“Knowing all those databases intimately, it was easy for me to visualise the concept of a virtual database,” Idehen says. He went shopping for an engine on which to base such a product and settled on Kubl — a fast, portable, ODBC-aware SQL database. Never heard of it? That’s because Idehen snapped it up as soon as he found it.

In 1999, OpenLink emerged with the concept that has since evolved into Virtuoso 3.0. At the core, it’s a SQL engine that not only supports ODBC but can attach foreign databases through ODBC. Then came the layers: an e-mail server, a news server, an application server, a SOAP stack, Java and .Net bindings, a WebDAV server, and XML storage, indexing, and transformation. The goal was always business process integration, but that was difficult to explain. Then in January of 2003, IBM “decided to regurgitate Data Joiner — and they used the magic words ‘virtual database’.” That was the validation Idehen was looking for and he’s ready to make business data represent the community that it serves.

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