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Informix

Informix is a relational database and for almost 20 years was also the name of the company who developed it. Informix DBMS was a development of the pioneering Ingres system that also led to Sybase and SQL Server, and was the #2 database system behind Oracle for some time in the 1990s. Their brush with success was surprisingly short-lived however, and by 2000 a series of management blunders had all but destroyed the company. In 2001 they were purchased by IBM in order to gain access to Informix's existing market share and customer base. Long term plans to merge Informix technology with DB2 are in place, since the Informix Arrowhead project is now called DB2 Arrowhead. IBM is also commited in supporting older versions.

History

Roger Sippl and Laura King worked at Cromenco[?], an early S-100/CP/M company, where they developed a small relational database based on ISAM techniques, as a part of a report-writer software package.

Convinced of the usefulness of the database market, and that they needed larger machines to make it practical, Sippl and King left Cromenco to found Relational Database Systems in 1980. Their first product, Marathon, was essentially a 16-bit version of their earlier ISAM work hosted on Unix.

They then turned their attention to the emerging SQL market, and adapted a version of the publically-available Ingres source code to the Unix platform. At the time Ingres had a number of serious limitations, using page-level locking, relying on the underlying operating system to provide all security, and limiting names to only 18 characters. In addition Ingres used its own query language QUEL, at a time when the market was clearly moving to SQL.

Nevertheless Ingres was well tested and free, allowing them to release their own version as Informix in 1981. Informix included only the most basic changes to the Ingres system, most notably an adaptation of QUEL to their own Informer language. In 1984 they published a major upgrade to Informix with a new SQL-based query engine, although their format for SQL remained "odd" compared to the rest of the market.

Through the early 1980s Informix was a small player, but as Unix grew in popularity during the mid-1980s, their fortunes changed. By 1986 they were large enough to float a successful IPO, and changed the company name to Informix Software. A series of releases followed, including the splitting of the product line starting with Version 5 into Informix OnLine with a new query engine (known for a time as Turbo), and Informix-SE, a re-named version of the original system.

Following the lead of a number of other database developers, Informix then started looking at tools to build database applications. Informix-4GL was the result, a text-based forms application.

In 1988 they purchased Innovative Software, makers of a groundbreaking spreadsheet program on the Apple Macintosh, releasing it as Informix Wingz[?]. Wingz was highly graphical, supported very large spreadsheets, and offered programming in a HyperCard-like language known as HyperScript. The original release on the Mac was very successful, quickly becoming the #2 spreadhseet behind Microsoft Excel, which it generally beat in all technical ways. WingZ was then ported to a number of other platforms, mostly Unix variants. However it suffered from a serious lack of development and marketing resources, likely due to NIH and a general misunderstanding of the non-server software market. By the early 1990s WingZ was no longer competitive, and was eventually sold off in 1995 after disappearing from the market.

In 1994, as part of a collaboration with Sequent Computer Systems, Informix released the first Version 7.x release. This was a major rework of the core engine of the product, supporting both horizontal and vertical parallelism, and based on a multi-threaded core well suited towards the Symmetric Multi-Processing[?] systems that Sequent pioneered and major vendors like Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard were eventually to follow up on. The two forms of parallelism made the product capable of market leading levels of scalability, both for OLTP and data warehousing.

Now known as Informix OnLine Dynamic Server, Version 7 hit the market in 1994, just when SMP systems were becoming popular and Unix in general was becoming the server operating system of choice. In addition, Version 7 consistantly won almost every benchmarking award. Largely as a result, Informix vaulted to the #2 position in the database world by 1997, pushing Sybase out of that spot with surprising ease. Sybase responded by claiming they would provide a new server with many of the same features, but this still hasn't happened. From a technical standpoint, Informix is arguably still the most advanced relational database available.

Building on the success of Version 7, Informix made the fateful decision to split its core database development investment into two efforts. One effort, which became the Version 8 product line, came also to be known as XPS. This effort focused on enhancements in data warehousing and parallelism in a shared-nothing[?] platform enviroment such as IBM's RS-6000/SP.

The second focus, which followed the 1995 purchase of Illustra[?], was on object-relational database technology. Illustra[?], created by ex-Postgres team members, included various features that allowed it to return fully-formed objects directly from the database, a feature that can significantly reduce programming time in many projects. Illustra also included a feature known as DataBlades that allowed new data types and features to be included in the basic server as options. These included solutions to a number of thorny SQL problems, namely time series, spatial and multimedia data. Informix integrated Illustra's O-R mapping and DataBlades into the main OnLine product, resulting in Informix Universal Server, or more generally Version 9.

Both new versions, V8 and V9, were released in 1996, making Informix the first of the "big three" database companies (the others being Oracle and Sybase) to offer built-in O-R support. Of particular interest to the market were the DataBlades, which soon became very popular and dozens were released within a year. This left other vendors scrambling, with Oracle introducing a "grafted on" package for time-series support in 1997, and Sybase instead turning to a 3rd party for an external package.

But Informix's technical successes were overshadowed by its ongoing failures in marketing and an unfortunate leadership in corporate misgovernance. On April 1, 1997, Informix was forced to announce that revenues were going to be $100 million below expectations. In retrospect, the day before this incident was probably the peak of Informix's success as a company. While it continued to advance its technology, the churn in management that followed the ouster of the CEO in 1997 meant the company never recovered the momentum that its success with Version 7.x established.

Starting in the year 2000, the major events in Informix's history were no longer about its technical innovations. By that time the database engines included not only the Informix heritage products, but SQL engines from Red Brick and Cloudscape, and the multi-dimensional engines UniVerse and UniData (known collectively as U2).

That year, in March, Informix acquired Ardent Software[?], a company that had a history of mergers and acquisitions of its own. By July the former CEO of Ardent became the CEO of Informix, and soon re-organized Informix to make it more attractive as a acquisition target. The major step taken was to separate out all of the database engine technologies from the applications and tools.

In [2001] IBM took advantage of this reorganization, and bought the database technology from Informix, the Informix brand itself, and the over 100,000-customer base that it included. The application and tool leftovers were renamed Ascential Software[?].

Products

Prior to its purchase, Informix had several interesting products that it developed or acquired, including:

  • Informix C-ISAM - the latest version of the original Marathon database
  • Informix SE - offered as a low-end system for embedding into applications
  • Informix Extended Parallel Server (XPS, V8) - high-end version of the V7 code base for use on huge distributed machines.
  • Informix Universal Server (V9) - a combination of the V7 OnLine engine with the O-R mapping and DataBlade support from Illustra
  • Red Brick Warehouse - a data warehouse product
  • Cloudscape - a RDBMS written entirely in Java that fits into mobile devices on the low-end and J2EE-based architectures on the high end.
  • U2 suite, UniVerse and UniData - multidimensional databases[?] that offer networks, hierarchies, arrays and other data formats that are hard to model in SQL



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