Is IBM a Player in the Relational Database Market?

Opinion: While others foresaw the implications of Moore's Law on the database market, IBM took its eye off the ball. IBM never succeeded in making much headway with DB2 relative to its competitors.

With the recent announced retirement of IBMs Janet Perna, most associated with their DB2 database franchise, it got me thinking about IBMs future in the relational database market.

I, like many others, got my first taste of relational technology back in the mid-1980s supporting DB2 on MVS.

I remember attending many of the early International DB2 User Group (IDUG) conferences, which were both rowdy and informative.

The momentum and energy around DB2 was growing and positive, clearly the front runner.

Not many at that time considered Unix a threat, a toy really, and even if it did become a credible enterprise platform, no doubt DB2 would dominate that market as well.

By the early 1990s, I had left the end-user side for the vendor side, but working in field support only connected me more with what different organizations were doing.

By 1993, I began to see the shift toward acceptance of distributed database platforms.

By 1995, that trend was unstoppable. By then, I hadnt touched a mainframe for over two years, having switched attention to Oracle, Sybase and Informix.

But where, I asked, was DB2? What had they done to lose their leadership position in such a growing market segment?

Some may remember IBMs push around OS/2 and subsequently its releases of DB2/2 to complement it.

They also pitched connectivity between DB2/2, DB2, SQL/DS and OS/400 databases. Sound familiar?

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Of course OS/2 and VSE failed to win market share and the improved price and performance of AS/400 was eclipsed by rapid improvements in RISC-based and now with Intel-based chip architectures.

The mainframe remains a solid cash cow, but certainly not a growth engine. So perhaps while other competitors foresaw the implications of Moores Law on the database market and focused on their database software, IBM took its eye off the ball.

By 1995, Oracle had solidified its position as the market leader in the distributed database market.

Sybase and Informix had unknowingly reached their zeniths, and Microsoft was just beginning its assault.

By 2000, IBM seemed to be a player in the distributed relational database market only by default as Informix and Sybase had self-destructed.

By 2004, IBM was no longer viewed as a database company but as a company with many databases.

The economic downturn in 2000 forced organizations to focus on software costs once again.

Oracle was having difficulties with its licensing model (remember Power Units), and IBM had released DB2 V7 for Unix and Windows, which many thought to be IBMs first truly competitive version for the distributed market.

With users upset with Oracle, many (myself included) thought the time was right for DB2 to finally take market share away from Oracle.

Based on my interaction with clients over the past five years and by looking at some of the market share numbers a bit closer, my conclusion is that IBM never succeeded in making much headway with DB2 relative to its competitors on Unix, Windows or Linux platforms, and that perhaps their window of opportunity had indeed passed them by.

Next Page: Problems with DB2.