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DB2 looks to enterprise information management to fend off Microsoft

In an interview, IDC database analyst Carl Olofson offers his analysis of recent developments involving IBM's DB2 software along with predictions of what's coming next.

IBM's DB2 family of databases has been around a long time -- since 1983 in fact. Originally available only on IBM mainframes, DB2 now comes in three distinct forms, including DB2 for Linux, Unix and Windows. Yet with all the buzz surrounding Web 2.0 and Green IT, among other hyped-up technology trends, DB2 hasn't grabbed many headlines lately. Still an important part of many an IT infrastructure, DB2 developments shouldn't be overlooked. recently caught up with Carl Olofson, IDC research vice president for information management and data integration software, to learn the latest on DB2, how it's faring against rival Oracle's database offerings and what customers can expect in the way of DB2 developments in the coming months and years.

You've said DB2 comes in three distinct forms. What are they and how are they holding up in the current market?
There's the z/OS form, which is the original DB2, the mainframe version if you will. That one seems to be chugging along fine. Its fortunes are more or less tied to the mainframe and to the large application systems that run on it.

Then you have DB2 iSeries. That's built into the AS/400, so obviously it comes with every machine and most applications that are data driven on the AS/400 run on it. So its fortunes are clearly tied to the AS/400 platform itself.

Which leaves us with a form of DB2 that's commonly referred to as DB2 LUW,LUW standing for Linux, Unix and Windows. And that's the one I think most observers are really focusing on.

Why is DB2 LUW the focus of such attention?
IBM has been making a push to extend the reach of DB2 LUW beyond IBM-based platforms. I want to be careful the way I say this because I don't want there to be a misimpression, but there's a common suspicion among the people I talk to that the DB2 LUW is much more heavily used for decision support functions than for transaction processing. So I think that what you're going to see going forward is that DB2 will continue to grow in fits and starts, but increasingly I suspect it'll be tied to business intelligence (BI) platform technology. For transactional processing, we'll see more emphasis from IBM on pushing its Informix Dynamic Server.

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 What's driving the use of DB2 LUW for decision support and BI?
Quite simply, it's what customers want. What we've seen is that IBM will ultimately do what the customers want. Some technology companies you find are so in love with particular technologies that they will insist on ramming them down their customers' throats. But IBM's a little more practical than that. That's why they've been around for so long and gotten so big. They learn to respond to what the customers ask for. How does IBM stack up to Oracle at the moment in terms of market share?
We don't really break out the brands, but most of IBM relational database figures are DB2. That said, IBM's in second place, with Oracle obviously on top. But Microsoft has been coming up steadily from below, and depending on how you break the numbers out, you could even call it a tie for second at this point between IBM and Microsoft. But that could definitely change in the next year or two. What has enabled Microsoft to make such a strong move in the database market?
Microsoft has had a pretty strong BI strategy for a while, since they incorporated OLAP tools into their product line, but the thing that has been helping them out a lot has been the introduction of SQL Server 2007. It really contains a lot of functionality that makes the product more enterprise-class, you might say. The main issues that they have to deal with now are how to get the message out and how to manage sales to large enterprise customers. Has IBM been slow to respond to the Microsoft challenge?
Neither IBM nor Oracle has been standing still while this is going on. They've been adding features and offers that make their products more attractive to their enterprise customers, while at the same time attempting to penetrate the small and medium-sized business (SMB) space. I think Oracle has been a little more successful in that regard than IBM.

Having said that, IBM has been talking a lot about its success in the SMB space recently and there's probably something to that. The thing about it is that IBM can grow a lot in the SMB space, and because its numbers are so large, that doesn't affect it percentage-wise for a while.

What can DB2 customers expect to see from IBM in the coming months and years?
If you're a mainframe DB2 user, IBM wants to make the mainframe resources, including DB2, act as a kind of foundation for large-scale, high-volume processing in the background of your system.

And if you're a DB2 LUW user, then of course IBM wants you to use it for everything. But I think they will continue to develop DB2 LUW along three lines: one is BI and data warehousing; another is master data management, which is related but certainly not by any means the same as BI and data warehousing; and the third would be the coalescence of those two, which is enterprise information management (EIM). EIM really involves making operational and analytic data available to drive decisions, and synchronizing and harmonizing data across platforms, and IBM wants you to use DB2 LUW to do that.

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