Whats in Store for Informix Under IBM

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2001-05-07

In a way, its sad that IBM purchased Informix. the troubled but innovative underdog of a company had quite a following. On the other hand, if anyone had to do it, IBMs not a bad suitor. Otherwise, Informix might have languished and died. Or—egads—it could have been beaten to a pulp by Oracle. I can just see Oracle placing thousands of giant billboards up and down Highway 101 or Larry Ellison strafing the Menlo Park campus until the company surrendered.

As it is, Oracle is now offering huge discounts to Informix customers who might not want to switch to IBM. So it goes. The synergies of IBMs acquisition are clear, however. IBM gains 2,000 database developers, or 50 percent more than it had. IBM also doubles the size of its relational database business on the Windows NT and Unix platforms, and it gets much-needed warehousing technology from Red Brick, which Informix acquired in the mid-1990s.

It also gets interesting data mining and development tools, such as Visionary, which was former Informix Chief Technology Officer Michael Stonebrakers last project before he basically disappeared from the company last year.

Most important, Informixs Datablade technology extends IBMs DB2 to critical new areas. For example, two Datablades that are similar to IBMs DB2 extenders—the time series and geospatial Datablades—enable users to better analyze database information, especially in the retail market. Thats why Sears and Verizon are two huge Informix customers.

But there are still troublesome things about this deal. First of all, IBM paid cash for Informix. And although $1 billion is a hefty chunk of change, its highly doubtful that Informix engineers will get any of it. Sure, they can cash out on stock options, but those options may not be worth anything in todays climate.

It appears IBM is betting that the Informix engineers will stick it out because (a) as Informix database specialists they have no other place to go and (b) the job market cant accommodate them anyway. After all, Oracle already hired (infamously) a cadre of senior Informix engineers.

But I remember when Informix not only was battling Oracle for dominance but was also battling IBM. The technological war led to some of the best new database concepts, including the object-relational database design (which Informix acquired from Illustra).

As part of IBM, Informix as a database company may disappear, swallowed up by the biggest fish in the pond. Lets just hope IBM uses Informixs technology to further database development and not just as a means to battle Oracle.

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