IBMs Viper Pierces XML Divide

DB2 update packs breakthrough XML-handling capabilities.

IBM has let "Viper" out of the bag, unleashing DB2 9, the next generation of its DB2 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 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 Bob Picciano, vice president of data servers at IBM, called "one of the big breakthroughs" to occur in the past 20 years.

XML-specific new 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 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.

Viper, which will start shipping July 28, 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, said Picciano in Somers, N.Y.

Its unclear 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 XML and relational data. "My personal guess is that people will start to come up with all sorts of ways to do it," said Howard in Bath, England.

Indeed, Picciano said, large ISVs such as Nextance and Justsystems over the past year or two have shifted to using XML as an internal representation format. "As weve introduced Viper to them, theyve said, This is exactly what we were hoping somebody would step up and do," he said.

If peoples interest in XML has flagged, its not because XML isnt out there; rather, its the fault of inelegant XML-handling databases, Picciano said. "Because todays generation of XML-handling databases has been woefully inefficient in handling XML data, many customers have kept it separate," he said.

Vipers XML power has gotten all the press. But what catches Howards eye is that Viper is IBMs stake in the ground in the data-warehousing space.

Howard pointed to IBMs Data Warehousing BCU (Balanced Configuration Unit) as being the first positive move by a data-warehousing company in the face of appliance vendors muscling in. "Appliance vendors are starting to get a lot of traction," Howard said. "Its hurting Teradata, [and] it will hurt Oracle. IBM is the only mainstream vendor taking steps to compete with the likes of DATAllegro ... and Netezza."

Those companies offer bundled data warehouse appliances that practically eschew administrative costs, Howard said, delivered as preinstalled software on hardware platforms.

To deliver BCU, IBM took its experience with data warehousing and created a set of best practices, multidimensional clustering, summary tables and more to preinstall DB2 in a data-warehousing environment.

Its a turnkey solution, Howard said, and it could help IBM grab market share from Oracle. "[IBM is trying] to minimize the management overhead," he said. "I dont think that goes the whole way to answer the threat of Netezza, but Oracle hasnt moved at all to compete with [that threat]. IBM is bundling BCU with a hardware platform, [whereas] Oracle doesnt have a hardware platform. This is potentially a threat to Oracle."

Vipers threat to Oracle is a multifaceted treat for IBM. SAP announced in May that Viper would be the preferred database for midmarket SAP applications, thereby closing ranks ever tighter against Oracle.