Informix Offers Integrated Data Warehousing for NT and Unix

With Microsoft Corp. looming over the data warehousing market, Informix Corp. has joined the group of vendors that have rolled several data warehousing tools into a single, integrated product. By the accounts of Informix and several industry observers, it’s a move designed both to address customer preferences and to position Informix to compete with Microsoft.

The Informix offering is Decision Frontier Solution Suite, now in beta testing. The suite, which runs on Windows NT and Unix, includes Informix Dynamic Server with Advanced Decision Support Option and Informix MetaCube ROLAP Option. DataStage from Ardent Software (Westboro, Mass., www.ardentsoftware.com) provides data movement and metadata management for the suite, and Crystal Info 6 from Seagate Software (Scotts Valley, Calif., www.seagatesoftware.com) offers reporting and scheduling pieces that will be part of the MetaCube ROLAP.

The suite is expected to be released in October, says Bob Walters, general manager of the data warehousing business development unit at Informix. "The basic reason that we put this together was that our customers have really sent us a clear message," Walters says, "that they want us to make it easier to leverage their OLTP data through data warehousing and data marts."

Missing pieces that Informix plans to add later include a data mining tool, 100% Pure Java access and vertical customization, beginning with quick-start packages for the telecommunications, retail, health-care and finance sectors.

Key strengths will be that the suite contains the most recent versions of each of its components, and that buyers can choose how they want to use the components together, Walters says. For example, he says, if a customer wants to make three data marts with the suite, Informix will customize the package to do that. Also, if a customer already has ROLAP software in place that it prefers, Informix won’t make the customer buy MetaCube. "We believe that the world of computers in the late '90s is a heterogeneous world," Walters says.

Even publicly, Informix is acknowledging that Microsoft’s entry into data warehousing with Windows NT 5.0, SQL Server 7.0 and its decision-support server code-named Plato will fundamentally change the market. "Microsoft is going to revolutionize data warehousing in OLAP," Walters says. In his view, that’s not all bad for Informix. "Microsoft is going to help further legitimize data warehousing. Quite frankly, it’s going to capture the low end of the market," Walters says.

Informix’s offering will be a higher end product that will attract the new low-end customers as their needs for more scalable products emerge, according to Walters. "Microsoft is going to seed tens of thousands of accounts with NT-based data marts, and we believe many of those accounts will outgrow NT and/or SQL Server and will want to grow into Informix-based data marts and data warehouses," Walters says.

John Singer, an analyst with Meta Group, finds some truth and some wishful thinking in that position: "Informix can scale pretty high on a Sun 32 processor type system. That's more than you're going to get out of NT for awhile. But at that level Informix is competing against Oracle and [NCR Corp.’s] Teradata rather than Microsoft."

In a speech in late July, data warehousing consultant Douglas Hackney, president of Enterprise Group Ltd. (Hudson, Wis., www.egltd.com), predicted that a handful of integrated solutions will survive after Microsoft enters the market, although Hackney also predicted Microsoft will improve its products to the point that they scale nearly as well as any other.

Hackney predicted four major integrated solution providers would last: Microsoft, IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and Platinum Technology Inc. Another three to four coagulated providers could also make it, in Hackney’s view. Possible anchors for those integrated solutions included SAS Institute Inc., Information Builders Inc., Hyperion Software Corp./Arbor Software Corp., Seagate Software and possibly Sybase Inc., Hackney said.

Now Informix also is in line to try to make it as an integrated solution.