Viper Bites at Last

Updated: IBM's DB2 update not only packs breakthrough XML handling but also lashes out at the data warehousing appliance gang.

IBM has let "Viper" out of the bag, unleashing the next-generation DB2 9 data server with XML handling capabilities that Big Blue claims will turn our data handling ways on their head.

IBM on June 8 announced the ship date for the new data server, which is the culmination of five years of development. That effort had a lofty goal: to blow the dust off of static, traditional relational databases and transform them into beasts that can chew through all types of information—documents, audio and video files, images, Web pages, you name it.

At the heart of what IBM hopes will be a revolution in data handling sits Vipers XML capabilities. The data server includes patented "pureXML" technology that IBM Vice President of Data Servers Bob Picciano called "one of the big breakthroughs" to occur in the past 20 years.

"Nothing monumental has happened in the database space since we invented the relational database," said Picciano, in Somers, N.Y. "When we think of the impact XML has on the information management marketplace, this is the most fundamental thing thats happened" since then, he said.

New XML-specific goodies include an XML data type that allows users to store well-formed XML documents in their hierarchical form within columns of a table. This in itself is a leap forward from relational databases inelegant XML handling to date. Relational databases have relied on shredding or parsing XML data and putting data assigned to a particular tag into a column in a relational table. Alternatively, traditional relational databases have put "blobs" of data into relational fields.

Both nonnative ways of handling XML are deficient. Shredding XML harms the fidelity of the XML document itself. For example, if XML data comes from a Web application that includes an electronic signature thats associated with part of a form, its contained in the XML hierarchy. But if you parse the XML content in rows across a relational table, that hierarchy is lost, and youre unable to pull that exact structure back out. Blobs retain XML fidelity, but you lose the ability to search on data thats put into fields.

Viper brings support for the XML data type in SQL statements and SQL/XML functions as well as support for the W3Cs new XQuery language. It also allows users to invoke the XQuery language directly, calling functions that extract XML data from DB2 tables and views.

In addition, Viper arrives with new tools such as XQuery builder to create queries against XML data; support for indexing over XML data, which improves the efficiency of queries issued against XML documents; and access and management of XML data by the DB2 data server.

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Existing DB2 tools such as the Control Center, CLP (command line processor), db2look command and Visual Explain are enhanced to support XML data as well.

Viper also includes XML support in SQL and external procedures. Support for XML in many DB2-supported programming languages enables applications to combine XML and relational data access and storage.

What this all means is that users wont have to store XML separately from relational data. It will all be under one roof, allowing for tightened security, more efficient administration and management, and easier regulatory compliance for organizations that otherwise would have their data spread across the organization, Picciano said.

It remains to be seen whether the market is ready to jump on the blended XML/relational bandwagon. Phillip Howard, an analyst at Bloor Research, questioned how many people want to build serious business applications that use both XML and relational data. "The jurys out on that," said Howard, in Bath, England. "My personal guess is that people will start to come up with all sorts of ways to do it."

Next Page: ISVs shifting to XML.