Informix Broadens Database Offering

Informix Corp. plans to separate its data engines into data warehousing and OLTP lines and to develop an application server that supports both Java and ActiveX component development standards.

The announcements were made during the Informix Partner Forum in Las Vegas in late January. Other news from the forum included a new data visualization tool, Informix Visionary; immediate support for Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) and COM; a monitoring and optimization component, I-Spy; and a Web-based repository for managing and distributing company information, i.Reach.

But despite all the activity, Douglas Hackney, president of the data warehousing consulting firm Enterprise Group Ltd. (, sees nothing in the announcements that will break Informix out of its role as a solid niche player with superior technology. "I think the database market is shaking out to be dominated by IBM, Microsoft and Oracle," Hackney says. Recent public positioning statements from Informix indicate that it intends to focus exclusively on the highest and most lucrative end of the database market.

In the arena of data engines, David Appelbaum, Informix’s vice president of server product marketing and development, explains the idea behind separating data engine lines tuned for OLTP applications or for data warehousing: "More and more database companies are throwing more and more stuff into the database. Customers either use the database for application development or for data warehousing." Informix will use a common kernel for its two types of data engines.

Informix’s two-year, data-engine roadmap consists of four code-named steps: Centaur and Pegasus on the OLTP side and Yellowstone and Independence on the data warehousing side.

Centaur is scheduled to come out in the middle of this year and will include the application server with Java and COM+ server programmability. Centaur will support OLE DB access as both a server and a client. "For developers who are looking for open standard support as well as for Microsoft standards, we are going to have a very solid platform to both mix and match components, component hosting strategies and application support," Appelbaum says.

Informix plans for the data engine to handle scalable Internet application development and deployment of new business process applications such as e-commerce and media asset management. Some prefabricated solutions will be made available with Centaur. Informix is scheduling the Pegasus release for 2000. Pegasus will extend the flexibility of the system to allow access to heterogeneous data sources and begin building what Informix refers to as a smart data federation.

On the data warehousing track, Informix plans to launch Yellowstone in the second half of this year. The data engine will offer extended parallel server functionality through SMP, MPP, NUMA and clustered system architectures. It will also be integrated with Informix Decision Frontier Solution Suite, Informix’s end-to-end set of data warehousing tools and components made by Informix and other vendors. In 2000, the Independence version will add automatic data failover and increased scalability, according to Informix.

For the immediate future, Informix released new components and capabilities for its flagship product, Informix Dynamic Server with Universal Data Option.

Informix Visionary, a business visualization tool, is designed to make it easy for non-technical business users to explore corporate databases. Visionary includes a no-code authoring environment and a runtime viewer that can be embedded as an ActiveX control. The C++ application runs on Windows NT, says Dr. Michael Stonebraker, chief technical officer at Informix. "The basic motif we give you is an arbitrary-sized, two-dimensional viewer," Stonebraker says. "You can pan your screen around to view different areas. You can lower the elevation of the camera. Dots on a map of America can turn into images of individual customers, giving way to a collection of records describing that customer’s history of transactions with you."

Informix also announced enhanced compatibility of its Dynamic Server with the Microsoft environment through integration with MTS and COM. The move allows developers to move business logic to the most efficient place, whether it is in the client, in an MTS middle tier or in the Informix Dynamic Server, which treats COM components as DataBlade modules. DataBlades combine data types and functions into a single executable object. Support for MTS transactions is available immediately with Informix Client SDK and COM components will be supported as DataBlade modules in an upcoming release of Dynamic Server.

The new monitoring and optimization component for data warehouses, Informix I-Spy, fits in the Decision Frontier suite. The transparent monitoring system resides between the data engine and the client and provides performance and usage statistics. The Web-based interface allows administrators to optimize data models and indexing and impose rule-based constraints to minimize inefficient use of the warehouse.

Another new Web-based tool is the Informix i.Reach corporate information repository, which the company claims will save customers money by reducing paper and faxing costs. A Web-browser interface allows employees to contribute, access, review or maintain documents from an intranet, Internet or extranet Web site. Informix’s new i.Informix Web/E-commerce division will distribute i.Reach.