Ellisons Nemesis

Perna's estimation, the multibillion dollar database sweepstakes has two entries and the smart money is on IBM.

Name: Janet Perna

Title: GM, data management solutions, IBM

Web Info: www.ibm.com/db2

Claim to Fame: Inked partnerships to sink OracleIN JANET

Pernas estimation, the multibillion dollar database sweepstakes has two entries and the smart money is on IBM.

"Oracles client/server leadership is a legacy business," says Perna, IBMs general manager of data management solutions, of IBMs database rival. "Its a two-horse race, and we have the stronger horse."

Larry Ellison, however, has been quite vocal in suggesting otherwise. In recent months, he has chided IBM on issues ranging from software strategy to pricing. But while Perna may not match Ellisons brash demeanor, she doesnt lack for competitive drive. Instead of attacking Ellison head on, she prefers a surround-and-conquer approach. She is quick to highlight IBMs close relationships with PeopleSoft and Siebel, two companies that Oracle alienated when Ellison pushed into the applications market.

Overall, Perna comes across as a seasoned executive who takes a long-term view of the database market. "Steve [Mills, IBMs top software executive] and I have been at this for 10 years, but it feels more like a 100-year war," she says.

Actually, Pernas work at IBM dates to 1974, when she joined the company as a programmer. She moved on to product development in the early 1980s and was named general manager of data management in 1996. Since then, "weve had 15 consecutive quarters of tremendous growth," she says. "Were experiencing about 20 percent growth on Unix and Windows."

IBM is now close to drawing even with Oracle in worldwide database market share. According to Gartners Dataquest unit, Oracle leads the way with a 33.8 percent slice of new license revenue with IBM commanding 30.1 percent.

And then theres IBMs pending acquisition of Informixs database business, another initiative Perna is behind. The $1 billion buyout will extend IBMs reach in distributed databases, Oracles traditional turf. Perna reports that it was Informix that approached IBM about the combination, not vice versa. But she adds that IBM was interested in Informix from its initial overtures.

At least one IBM customer, however, was interested in the transaction prior to the acquisition talks. Before the deal ever happened, Wal-Mart asked IBM to buy Informix, according to Perna. Wal-Mart runs DB2 in the mainframe environment and Informix on local store databases. Wal-Mart wanted to ensure that Informix would be supported for years to come, hence the call to IBM, she says.

Perna has done much to shape IBMs database direction, but shes backed by more than 6,000 employees guiding the evolution of the companys data-management products. Among the ongoing developments is the concept of the self-managing database. IBM has been rolling out a series of wizards that automate performance tuning and other formerly manual processes.

Jeff Jones, IBMs senior program manager for data management solutions, says the company will take some "fairly dramatic steps" toward a fully automated solution with the next version of DB2, although he adds that a completely "hands-off" product is still a ways off.

But as automation increases, the role of the database administrator will change, according to Jones. In the automated scenario, the key task for the database consultant will be to "define the best architected database" for a given application.

Despite the automation, IBMs database partners are playing a larger role with the companys offerings. "In 1995, none of our DB2 sales [were] through partners," Perna notes. "Today, 42 percent of DB2 sales involve partners."

Indeed, partnering with integrators and developers seems Pernas preferred approach to battling Oracle.