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As the database market mushrooms, the leading suppliers are adding internet-related functions to their products in an attempt to attract users.
A report by Dataquest, released last week, shows the worldwide database market grew 18% to reach more than £12bn in 1999. And while there will always be a place for database suppliers who cater for niche application areas, the report found that the database world is headed by a trinity of dominant players – Oracle, IBM and Microsoft.
All three are bullish at the moment. Claim and counter-claim fill this space, and each supplier offers functionality to ease users’ migration from a competitor to their own database package.
IBM, for one, is making no secret of the importance it places on the struggle for marketshare.
According to Mike Blake, a data management consultant with IBM, the company’s DB2 universal database is the biggest investment area within IBM software, with the company planning to recruit another 500 DB2 staff worldwide across software engineering, sales and marketing in the next two years.
The spirit of rivalry has intensified of late: both IBM and Microsoft have recently announced new versions of their databases. IBM’s DB2 version 7 shipped last month, while Microsoft has made the beta version of SQL server 2000 available, with a full release date set for August. Both these fresh products offer support for XML files and further embrace the Internet.
XML is swiftly gaining prominence as the standard format for describing and tagging data and thus exchanging documents from business to business. DB2’s and SQL Server’s support underlines this.
Now users of both databases can define, store and retrieve XML-based documents within the database both as whole XML documents or as “decomposed” documents, where the data is stored as sets of objects or tags and then reassembled into full XML format prior to use.
This, of course, will give IT managers a choice in how they choose to store their XML files depending on their predilection and business situation.
However, Rob Hailstone, research director at Bloor Research, predicted that in the current climate, where XML coverage is not really established between business partners, more organisations will tend to store decomposed XML files. But, as inter-business dealings build XML streams, Hailstone believes the storing of complete XML documents will come into its own.
This, said Hailstone, is because at the moment we are only seeing a fairly unsophisticated use of XML between companies. For the most part, translation of an XML document is obtained by breaking it down into common tag sets.
In the fullness of time, as the use of XML reaches a more competent level, users will know that a certain XML document has certain properties and will be able to store it as a complete document. This scenario, however, will require further standardisation in the XML arena.
Oracle embraced XML with the launch of its Oracle 8i database over a year ago and has since included XML support within its development and intelligence tools. Gary Pugh, data server product manager at Oracle, said there is a real enthusiasm for XML within the Oracle users community.
According to Pugh, 60% of delegates at last year's Open World Oracle user conference stated that the main factor in deciding on Oracle products was its support for XML.
“There is no doubt that XML will become the standard for describing documents,” said Pugh.
“From an IT manager’s point of view this means he will be able to integrate his applications with those of other businesses, from the developer’s angle it means he will only have to learn say, two languages such as XML and Java rather than learn numerous [application programming interfaces] when building applications,” he added.
As the XML bandwagon rolls on and the database wars rage, Hailstone has a word of caution for sites considering migrating data from an established database to updated versions or to competitors offerings. He does not recommend meddling with applications and data already established on a database unless that database turns out to be a bad choice and migration is a necessity.
Hailstone cites the change in operating procedures, the need for re-coding and having to retrain technical staff as reasons not to reject a satisfactory database in favour of a newer version.
If a site plans to run with a certain make of database or to adopt one of the new releases, Hailstone advises doing so with recently started projects rather than established business applications.
With the database at the crux of e-business, the last thing you want to do, he said, is change it once the application has gone live.