Smaller Innovators Fill Database Niches

Clustra, TimesTen tackling high-availability, high-speed requirements

At first glance, the database landscape doesnt appear to be crowded, with IBM, Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. garnering the lions share of attention.

But a growing number of smaller companies and startups are beginning to use technology in innovative ways to carve out niches to meet demand in areas that arent addressed by IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif.

Vendors such as Clustra Systems Inc. and TimesTen Performance Software Co. are creating database products aimed at addressing ultra-high-availability and high-speed demands. Even more established companies such as Software AG are getting into the game, with the Darmstadt, Germany, company focusing on intensive XML (Extensible Markup Language) support.

"They dont have to cover a broad range of functionality. If you have a need for what they do, this is made in heaven," said Patrick Donnelly, executive director of product management for Telcordia Technologies Inc., the Piscataway, N.J., company using Clustras Linux-based Clustra Database 4.0 in its IP-based softswitch products.

"Were in the network systems business, which means that, fundamentally, it cant go down. They are our real-time database. We absolutely depend on it" for call-context identification and authorization, Donnelly said.

More and more, enterprise IT managers with high-end and specialty database demands are finding that mainstream general-purpose databases from IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., and Oracle dont meet their needs, despite the triumvirates nearly $9 billion in annual sales, which made up about 82 percent of the market last year, according to Gartner Dataquest. The catch with many of these niche players is that they come with limitations in such areas as scalability, size and options.

Like Oracle with its recently released 9i, Clustra, of Oakland, Calif., emphasizes high availability and scalability. However, unlike Oracles clustering, Clustras database has numerous users and is affordable for small companies because it is based on Linux, said Gary Ebersole, CEO and president.

"The key ... is that we designed clustering in at the lowest level of the database" rather than adding it on to an existing product, Ebersole said.

Clustra intends to make application partner announcements at the end of the year, with a focus on Java development, according to Ebersole.

Another specialist, TimesTen Performance Software, differentiates its database with an in-memory design. That means it runs entirely in RAM, never seeing a disk drive and making it extremely fast for functions such as telecommunications and financial services authorization needs. However, there is a limited maximum size, TimesTen officials said. "These are places where, traditionally, people have built home-grown, application-specific solutions," said CEO James Groff, in Mountain View, Calif. "The opportunity for us is those things also end up meaning its relatively inflexible."

TimesTen will upgrade its product this summer, emphasizing data replication and scalability, followed by new releases about every six months, Groff said.

Data Transmission Network Corp., of Omaha, Neb., uses TimesTens namesake database in its financial markets application to stream stock prices to other services. The company also uses Oracle and the free MySQL program in other areas.

"Some of our data volumes are getting up into the 5,000 transactions- per-second range" and will be up to 50,000 per second soon, said Chief Technology Officer Scott Fleck.

Fleck said Oracle could do that only in theory and at a high cost. Even Oracles high-availability functions would not be a reason to switch, said Data Transmissions Scott Vigal, director of engineering. "If we have a hardware crash, were going to miss data no matter what," Vigal said. "It doesnt matter if were down for a quarter of a second or an hour; weve got the same issue."

At SAG, the focus is on Tamino 2.3, the version of its native XML database launched last month. While IBM, Microsoft and Oracle have XML add-ons to their databases, none has designed it in from the core architecture, said Michael Champion, SAGs senior research and development adviser.

Building in XML from the start is "more of an art than a science. A relational database presents the view of the world as rows and columns, and we present the view of the world as XML data and queries," Champion said. "Its more accessible; people can do it more intuitively." SAG is now focusing on referential data integrity and mathematical planning models, he said.

For the state of California, Tamino is helping with sales tax collection, analysis and archiving, said Ron Hanson, data architect and formerly database administrator at the states Board of Equalization, in Sacramento.

California has about 1 million sales tax payers and receives 800,000 paper forms a month that it manually enters into a mainframe database. In January, Hanson implemented Tamino. Now, users can file taxes at various privately run Web sites, and the sites forward the data to Hansons Tamino application. Tamino parses the XML data into the mainframe system, validates the filers account number and online eligibility, and sends it back to Tamino, saving the filers and state time and money.

"The closer you make the database look like the business, the better off you are," Hanson said.