Database Heavyweights Weigh In on XML Standard

IBM, Microsoft and Oracle among those pushing for adoption of the XQuery standard, considered an important milestone in finalizing a standard for querying XML data.

Relational database heavyweights are pushing the XQuery standard for querying XML documents, with IBM and Microsoft Corp. expected to present a test suite for the standard to the W3C on Friday, and Oracle Corp. recently having posted a prototype of the standard on its site.

The test suite IBM and Microsoft will present is considered an important milestone in finalizing a standard for querying XML data. If adopted by the W3C, the test suite will be used to check whether an XQuery implementation performs as standards dictate, thus ensuring that a given technology is portable across multiple applications that conform to the standard.

Customers need that assurance as they increasingly begin to develop XML applications, said Nelson Mattos, IBMs director of information integration, in San Jose, Calif. "Customers want to have the protection on their investment," he said. "We hear this constantly from customers that think XML technology is very strategic, but as theyre developing XML applications, they want to make sure theyre portable across multiple databases and platforms."

IBM has pledged that when the XQuery standard is finalized, the company will plug the search technology into its DB2 database product family. The products that would adopt XQuery include DB2 Information Integrator, a product that grew out of IBMs Xperanto initiative thats designed to unify, integrate and search scattered repositories and formats of historical and real-time information as if they were one database; DB2 Universal Database; and DB2 Content Manager.

According to Mattos, WebSphere Business Integrator, the Informix database, and Business Intelligence products such as Intelligent Miner or the Red Brick Warehouse will also support XQuery when it becomes an official W3C recommendation.

XML aficionados differ on how much the XQuery standard matters. Timothy Chester, senior IT manager and adjunct faculty member at Texas A&M University, in College Station, Texas, called it an "important step in a very small sandbox." Chester uses XML for systems integration but doesnt query XML documents and thinks its unlikely that many will give up the tried-and-true structured language of relational databases for XML.

"Make the case to me why this is so much better than the structured query language that weve used for 10 years and all my programmers know like its their second language," he said. "Thats the case they need to make."

But to users like Lynn Kellar, director of the Enterprise Database Technology division of the Online Computer Library Center, in Dublin, Ohio, the test suite and the approach of an XQuery standard will have major impact.

The OCLC is typical of the type of content publisher likely to be heavily invested in an XML querying standard. It is a global library cooperative with a mission to provide access to the worlds information and reduce library costs by offering services for libraries and their users. The organization runs its operations on Oracle9i databases. Those operations include 52 million records, transformed into XML last year, that detail information available in countries throughout the world.

"We have 47,000 members in 82 countries," Kellar said. "We have to be an open system. XQuery is another method to allow people into our system. There are library systems we use, but anything thats W3C-generated is important for us to support."

Standardization of XQuery is expected around years end, according to Oracle Corp. Senior Vice President of Server Technologies Andrew Mendelsohn. Oracle is a member of the W3Cs XML Query working group.

Ratifying the XQuery test suite could take a few more months, according to an IBM spokesman, as the W3C brings it to the "Last Call" stage, where it will be presented for industry comment and review.

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