i2 Taps DB2 as Preferred Development Platform

IBM and i2 Technologies (Dallas), who entered a marketing alliance last year, have extended their relationship with i2’s recent announcement that it has chosen IBM’s DB2 Universal Database as its preferred development platform. Just how much the relationship has been extended, however, is still a matter of some question.

The most significant change this agreement signals, according to representatives of both companies, is in the area of marketing. According Jeff Jones, senior program manager for IBM data management solutions, naming DB2 their “preferred platform” means i2 will train its sales force to “lead with DB2 first, Oracle second.” However, the company will still fulfill orders and support customers running their applications on Oracle or another platform besides DB2.

“Because of the IBM i2 preferred and premier partnership, in a case where we’re out in the field and someone says they’re upgrading their server, or their looking into a database server, well then we’ll certainly recommend DB2,” says Diane Walker, senior marketing manager for i2’s IBM global business group. “But, if Mr. Customer says, ‘well that’s all well and good, but I’m really more interested in using Oracle,’ then that’s fine – we’ll offer them that, too.”

There is some question, however, as to what this agreement means in terms of actual development. Jones suggested the “preferred” relationship, at least with regard to AIX, means that i2 will be developing primarily on DB2 and secondarily on other platforms. This could bring huge benefits in terms of performance for DB2 users, Jones says, especially for taking advantage of new DB2 features such as rolling average and sum capabilities, warehousing administration and other advanced analysis functions.

“There are a number of advantages with any company when they develop on DB2 and then retrofit their application to another platform,” he says. “The first obvious thing is better performance. They’re able to tune their application for incredible performance. Secondly, there are a wave of new functions that they will be able to take advantage of –those functions that maybe aren’t available on Oracle or Sybase, or Microsoft or something.”

Jones says the exact details of that aspect of the deal have yet to be nailed down, however. According to Walker, any performance increases have to do only with access to IBM technical resources, not any targeted development efforts.

“Because of our tighter partnership with IBM we just have better access to their technical resources,” Walker says. “With the dedicated resources being on site, we do (quality assurance) to make sure that our software runs optimally on DB2, but that doesn’t reduce our portability and operability with other servers. Nothing has really changed technically dramatically. ...What this really means is what’s happening out there in the sales field. The quality of how well i2 runs on other platforms is comparable. We have just decided to go on record with the statement that we prefer IBM’s DB2. But that doesn’t take away from our support of other platforms.”

Part of the reason i2 maybe be focusing more on DB2 for AIX, says Jones, aside from the improved performance of the recently released DB2 v7, may be due to growing vendor discontent leading to a backlash against Oracle Corp., whose e-business applications are seen in some ways as competing directly with their business partners.

“Look for more of these – we’ve got others in the pipeline,” Jones says. “And I think it’s a sign of the growing problems with Oracle and what’s happening with DB2 and the performance of DB2."

Jon Rubin, senior research analyst at GartnerGroup, says he has seen some evidence of such discontent on behalf of vendors toward Oracle, however, he does not expect it to have a crippling effect on the company’s install base.

“There’s definitely a dynamic that we’ve seen in the marketplace. For certain packaged application vendors who happen to compete with Oracle apps, there is a vested interest in not promoting Oracle,” Rubin said. “That’s why they’ve moved with much enthusiasm to Microsoft SQL Server. For those who want a UNIX, DB2 represents a non-Oracle UNIX database alternative.

“For these vendors, still the large proportion of their install base is on Oracle. So it’s one of those delicate balances of coopetition, so they will do nothing to antagonize Oracle.In the best case for DB2, even if an application vendor used only DB2 for their development, they would still do such a good job on the Oracle port and be so careful with it, that there wouldn’t be any tangible difference.”

Bob Shimp, senior director of Internet platform management for Oracle Corp., says this business partner relationship -- what he terms "coopetition" -- does not indicate any growing trend or backlash against Oracle. In fact, Shimp says, it is a commonplace practice for many vendors throughout the industry.

"We've leaned over many, many years how to both cooperate with and compete with our business partners," Shimp says. "This kind of coopetition is very, very common in the industry. If you look at IBM, they're doing exactly the same thing on the hardware side. …Frankly, Oracle has been highly successful in balancing this for many years. What you're hearing is just a lot of PR flack to deflect attention away from the dominance Oracle has shown in the market.

In terms of how this dynamic impacts the IBM/i2 announcement, Rubin believes it is a long way from saying i2 will be developing exclusively on DB2. In fact, he argues, it will have little actual impact on users, with most of the benefit coming in the form of improved market position for DB2.

“I think the reality here is that there are a number of preferred databases for development platforms. This is a long way from saying DB2 is the exclusive platform,” Rubin says. “For DB2 on AIX, becoming i2’s database development platform is more significant than paper marketing partnerships and routine product announcements and represents another positive step for DB2 in RDBMS. While being chosen as i2’s development platform lends credibility to DB2, it does not impart any tangible benefit to customers over other platforms such as Oracle.”

To gain credibility in the larger RDBMS market, Rubin says, IBM needs to consider extending i2 support for DB2 on Sun and HP along with Windows 2000.

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