Imitation, Innovation in Database Industry

Given its critical nature to large organizations, the database market is appropriately slow to change.

Given its critical nature to large organizations, the database market is appropriately slow to change. In fact, the big trend in the database industry over the past two years has been the bundling of existing technology into established database products.

Oracle Corp.s everything-in-one-pot strategy with its Oracle9i Database is the biggest example. However, Microsoft Corp. is also a pioneer in this area by being the first to include cross-database data transformation, extraction and loading tools and an OLAP (online analytical processing) engine in SQL Server 7.0—a move that pushed other players down the same road.

For example, IBM merged its data gateway products, Data Joiner and DB2 Connect, into DB2 to provide stronger heterogeneous data access, added an OLAP server and included a copy of the companys WebSphere application server.

Sybase Inc. began shipping Adaptive Server Enterprise 12.5 at the end of June and included native support for Enterprise JavaBeans, giving it a key application server feature.

Despite this trend, there have also been some remarkable, enormously creative innovations. Oracle was the first database vendor to create a relational database that customers could also use for data warehousing (through its support of bit-map indices) and was the first to provide a Windows and Web file system interface to a database back end.

IBMs DB2 was first to market (in 1996, no less) with Java support in the database—a trend everyone except Microsoft has now adopted—and was the first out with summary tables, which provide stunning performance improvements for database reports.

Informix Software Inc.s major innovations were an object relational database engine and an extensible database engine, both of which influenced IBM and Oracle to move in the same direction. (IBM acquired Informixs database technology earlier this year).

Microsoft fundamentally changed how databases were packaged by including OLAP features in SQL Server. Its other revolutionary concept was that a database should be easy to run: Microsofts database tools are still the best on the market, and everyone else is now copying ideas that were initially scoffed at, such as a self-tuning engine.

Sybases biggest innovation remains the idea of a programmable database through a stored procedure language, but Sybase was also a leader in developing database quality-of-service and resource governor features.

An Unsettled Future

The upcoming two years will likely be more fractious than the two just passed because there are deep divisions emerging among the market leaders.

IBM and Oracle have squared off over database clustering. IBMs shared-nothing approach emphasizes performance, whereas Oracles shared-disk approach emphasizes application compatibility and fault tolerance.

The role of XML (Extensible Markup Language) in the database is also divisive (Microsoft and IBM view the upcoming XML Query language as key technology for future database releases), as are ideas of how databases and file systems should share content.

Finally, the self-managing database is still a Holy Grail that all database vendors are now on a quest to develop. "We have to take the DBA [database administrator] out of the picture," said Pat Selinger, director of database integration at IBM, in San Jose, Calif. "You cant spend people doing things machines can do."