IMS at a Crossroads?

Far from expanding their use of that DBMS, analysts argue customers need to start planning their migrations now

Who says you can’t teach an old mainframe DBMS new and improved tricks? Not Computer Associates International Inc. (CA), which last week updated its DB2 and IMS database management tools.

CA’s announcement shines a light on IMS DB, IBM Corp.’s venerable non-relational (or “pre-relational” in analyst-speak) database management platform. As recently as 2002, Big Blue enjoyed strong IMS revenue growth (on the order of 5 percent), and IBM officials and many mainframe watchers (including, not surprisingly, CA reps), say the venerable DBMS is still all but ubiquitous in mainframe shops.

In fact, officials say, customers are expanding their use of IMS to take advantage of new enhancements, such as snapshot backup and recovery. Analysts, on the other hand, caution that long-term trends are decidedly not in IMS’s favor. Far from expanding their use of that DBMS, customers need to start planning their migrations now, some market watchers caution.

You wouldn’t think products as long in the tooth as IMS, much less the third-party management tools which support it, need much in the way of updating. IBM Corp. continues to enhance IMS, however, says Dave Schipper, vice-president of product management for CA’s database management and modeling tools, and customers continue to rely on IMS to power mission-critical, always-available, applications. “[IMS sales are] an area that we find growing at a pretty nice pace for how we expand the product set,” he observer. “Basically, 24x7 [availability], no outages—[this] is becoming more important [to organizations], and that’s certainly one of the areas IBM has worked on expanding.”

To that end, Schipper says, CA’s retooled Unicenter Database Management for IMS r11.5 supports DASD snapshot and Batch Message Process (BMP) pause and restart capabilities. “One of the things we did in this release was some things to allow our customers to keep data up and running, so we added support for the snapshot capabilities for the newer DASD devices, such as IBM Shark or EMC TimeFinder, [so you can] very quickly take a [snapshot] copy of a full set of files,” he comments. “We also added the ability to pause and restart BPM programs, so if a customer is doing an online reorg and there’s a running BMP, we can pause and resume the BMP and the BMP doesn’t even know it was stopped.”

The IMS enhancements also help improve recovery performance. “We [built] a recovery analysis capability into our recovery product [which] allows the user to set up the recovery job, fix up the recon data sets and DBRC—so that the recovery is ready to go—define the recovery for different scenarios, a lot of the things that help DBAs do more with less.”

Whither IMS?

Schipper says CA’s IMS tools continue to sell briskly. “Certainly my sense is that it is doing very well. I’ve been to Japan, Australia, and Europe in the course of this year so far, and they all seem to be happy with [IMS]. They’re pushing it into continuous usage and they want [the tools that] help them [to do so].”

Market watchers tend to be more pessimistic about IMS, along with other pre-relational mainframe databases, including IDMS/DB and Datacom/DB (both CA products), Model 204, and—of course—Adabase.

According to a recent report from Gartner Inc., for example, pre-relational database market share (measured by revenue) has mostly remained flat—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—even as market share, measured in terms of customer sites, has declined. There’s a logical explanation for this discrepancy, concludes Gartner analyst Donald Feinberg: “This is due primarily to increased prices from the vendors, currency conversions and mainframe CPU replacement,” he writes. “In real numbers, the revenue is dropping as the number of customers and licenses decreases.”

While there are plenty of applications for which IMS remains well-suited (such as the bread-and-butter applications it’s been quietly powering for three decades now), Feinberg says most customers should consider migrating off of IMS (or other pre-relational platforms) over the next five to ten years.

“As with any aging technology, fewer people are being trained for it. Most colleges and universities are only teaching about these DBMS engines in history of IT classes. Computer science and business administration students are learning modern technologies, such as RDBMS. In addition, entrants to the job market are interested only in modern DBMS technologies. It is difficult to find trainees for the mainframe, let alone for pre-relational DBMS technologies,” he points out.

This will place a premium on IMS talent. “Another problem is trying to find pre-relational database administrators,” Feinberg writes. “First, many of them want to move to new technologies, on and off the mainframe. Second, those remaining and not retiring will move from the end-user community to consulting firms as their numbers diminish and demand remains. This will increase the cost of support, because companies will be forced to replace in-house resources with consulting contracts. As these trends continue and the pre-relational DBMS skills base ages and retires, the problem will get worse.”

Mike Schiff, a Software AG veteran (where he helmed that company’s Adabase marketing efforts) and a principal with data warehousing consultancy MAS Strategies, isn’t quite as pessimistic. “IBM and Oracle always get into fights about who’s the database market leader, but one of the things that gives IBM the edge is their legacy systems, including IMS,” he points out. “IMS is still embedded in many applications that run [in conjunction] with it, and there are some applications where you don’t need [a] relational [database management system].”

While a dwindling pool of IMS talent might be cause for concern, Schiff notes that many IMS-bound apps have been quietly doing their thing for decades. “CA apparently has faith that the IMS installed base is still viable. The bigger point is that now there’s really no urgency: if the application works and IMS supports it, there’s no urgency to get off of it.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.