Many database and tools vendors talk about the Web and Java as the new fabric for databases of the next millennium and the key to new business opportunities.
?Java is clearly central to the market. It allows Vars and systems developers to widen their market because they don?t have to target a particular platform,? says Jeremy McGee, marketing manager at Borland.
Jeremy Jackson, MD of Unify in Europe, also thinks the future is bright. ?For complex applications and greenfield sites the Web is taking over, and we believe there is a market for transaction-based applications on the Web,? he says.
Borland and Unify were among the first to commit to Java and most vendors are following suit. But not everyone thinks it is a paradigm shift. Mark McGregor, MD of Pop-kin Software, says no one has worked out object technology yet, let alone what ought to be done with the Web and Java.
?People are still working out what is an object-oriented application with the Web as the delivery service, and what is HTML with the Web as a visualiser,? he says.
Paul Cunningham, director of product marketing at Select, agrees. ?Java has been influential because it has been so hyped, but it?s not yet influential in building enterprise-scale apps. If you talk to the biggest users of Java, they will be the first to admit they cannot yet do everything they would like to in Java ? they are having to use C++ and things like that.?
Java is not mature enough yet to support really important applications, says Cunningham ? and it won?t be until it has a proper component and business model. And adding Java functionality to databases, he says, is no breakthrough. ?They have simply added Java to the procedural shell of their existing product. Java has some nice object features, but basically it?s a language.?
Everyone is claiming to be ahead of the game, but in reality, the market is still not ready for the Web-based applications, says Nic Scott, sales director of Unidata.
?More and more people feel the need to use the Web, so have Sybase and Informix and the rest got it right? I think they have, but I doubt whether they have the technology because you need an object-based model to give you the speed and performance over the Web. Most people are putting object technology on top of their relational systems.?
What they need to do is use Java and create a completely object-oriented system, says Scott. But that means starting from scratch, and most vendors are unwilling to do that; getting there first is deemed more important and there is the legacy to think of as well. Manufacturers fear it would not be acceptable to third parties to have to rewrite all of the existing programs. They are probably right.
So, what we are going to see over the next few months is a set of compromises ? products that go halfway to using object orientation and the Web but don?t drop the RDBMS structure. But this might just be what the market wants ? something that allows them to start using the Web for access and build-in Java functions, but does not mean discarding the old system.
?The reality is that you need to co-exist,? says Oscar Rook, head of alliances marketing at Oracle. ?If there?s a single database, you need to be able to manage both the structured client/server environment and the new browser interfaces.?
There will plenty of choice for users who want to straddle the old and the new. Oracle, IBM, Informix, Sybase et al are making their products Java-friendly without abandoning the past. But will systems that really use the Web and Java start to take users away from those vendors that compromise?
This might happen, says Cunningham, especially if network computing is adopted. ?It?s putting a lot of emphasis back on the server, so we won?t see this proliferation of tools that we had on the desktop.?
Running a database over the Web will make it easier and cheaper to manage, and give users access to the latest data from any access point with a compatible browser. But migration will be a serious problem for users, and it is here that resellers and third-party developers can make hay.
Who?s who in databases...
The number one player in the RDBMS business with about half of the corporate market in its grip. The current version of the database, Oracle 7, is probably the most successful ever, and Oracle 8 will be out soon, delivering object modelling capabilities and Java connectivity.
Its strength in databases makes Oracle strong in tools as well. Hundreds of applications are developed using Oracle?s and other vendors? tools that rely on the Oracle database.
Oracle is an excellent partner for resellers with long-term objectives and a commitment to development and support of major applications.
With SQL Server at the top end and Access at the bottom, Microsoft is launching a two-pronged attack on the database market. We should also remember that it has development tools for the Web and the extremely popular Visual Basic, Visual J++, in its portfolio. At the top end, SQL Server is tightly integrated with NT, but there are questions about its current level of scalability.
With Active X (Com and DCom), Microsoft is also making a play for the interface between the objects and components on one side and the data warehouse on the other. If it wins the day, it will be in a very strong position, but it faces stern competition from Corba and, in the end, the two have to co-exist. Third parties such as Borland and HP will have to provide the bridging.
For resellers, Microsoft is a safe bet, but a lot of users may still want to run Oracle on NT. That said, there is a great deal of potential for SQL Server and Active X-based development work as the NT bandwagon rolls onwards.
With DB2, IBM has ruled the roost in the mainframe market for the past decade. This is an established product on which many mission-critical applications depend. It has not been, however, a channel product. It never could have been ? it is too big and typically supports massive applications ? even though, since 1993, it has been available on the PC platform under OS/2.
There has been a healthy development business surrounding DB2 and the future potential is in developing and migrating these applications to other platforms.
DB2 Universal will mean IBM resellers can sell a consistent platform into ?true blue? sites while their rivals can try to persuade users to migrate to other data engines.
But can DB2 resist the pull of other NT-based products? To some degree it probably can, as all IBM platforms will soon have version of DB2. To work with IBM in the database market, resellers clearly need to be focused on this technology.
Back, seemingly from the brink of disaster, Informix is pressing the Web server message hard with claims that its Universal Server strategy employs far superior technology.
The company is armed with revitalised database and development tools. The jury still seems to be out on the appeal of these products, but there is a tangible mood of optimism in the Informix camp these days. Also, most pleasingly, it has committed itself wholeheartedly once more to the channel.
If Informix starts to make some inroads into the market against the forces of Oracle and Microsoft, it could, once again, be a really good vendor partner for the reseller. But it has some catching up to do first.
Like Informix, Sybase is a company that has managed a partial revival of its fortunes after a particularly bleak period. But it may not be out of the woods yet, and it is certainly not the potent force it once was.
But well-respected products, a good user-base and new developments with tons of promise mean that it is too early to write off Sybase. The company is worth considering as a serious partner for the reseller that wants to offer a credible alternative to the usual offerings but, like Informix and Ingres, it has some work to do.
Formerly known as Gupta, this company made a real splash in the market a few years ago with its SQL Windows and SQL Base products, but it fell behind in development terms and lost momentum. Also, it had Microsoft to contend with.
All that said, Centura has a large user base and has always worked well with the channel. It may not be as fashionable as it once was, but there is now a set of tools for internet applications development. If it can gain some kind of technical edge, Centura could once again be a major challenger.
Computer Associates (CA) is one of the world?s biggest software companies and, much like IBM, it is heavily dependent on the mainframe market. That started to change when the company bought Ingres a few years ago to give itself a footing in the mid-range market.
This strategy worked, to a degree, but CA still seems to be a low-key player. We now have Open Ingres, but this is still very much a relational technology and CA seems to be maintaining a fairly low profile. It needs to get its product strategy up to date and let the world know about it.
One of the rising stars of the RDBMS business, Unidata is not very well known in the UK but is slowly raising its profile. Its origins are in the Pick market and it still does a lot of business moving users from Pick to Unix.
It also has a highly scalable database system, Systembuilder, and a Web-based TP product called Redback. Unidata is also working on Web developments and an object-oriented venture with French software house O2.
The US client/server specialist arrived in the UK in force in the early 1990s and made some impact, but not enough to disturb the major players too much. It still has a relatively low profile and, like CA, needs to raise its profile and make its product strategy clear.
A worthy player so far, but developers and resellers need to know more before making a commitment to the future.
Cognos is well established as a major 4GL player with its Powerhouse product, and is, like many database vendors, in the middle of making the move from client/server to object models. Cognos is a strong contender to be a long-term player of major significance in the tools market. It does sell direct, but also has a well developed third-party channel.
Borland is a tools vendor these days and is very much focused on Java. Its Windows product Delphi, though, is the one that has turned it around and produced the first solid black ink in a quarterly report for some time. But the new Java Rad product, Jbuilder, is where the hope for the future lies.
Borland is also promoting its middleware offerings which, it says, provide the ability to make Corba and DCom systems work together. With its new CEO Del Yokam in place, Borland is shaping up as a real competitor once again. Its new products are well worth a look for those developers interested in working under Java.
Select is a respected tools vendor, but not as struck by Java and the Web as many others. It is still focusing on what are basically Case tools, but, disillusioned with object models and compromises, some of the old structured development tools are making a comeback. The appeal of Select is that it is focused on protecting existing investment and that is something a lot of users care about a great deal.
Popkin is a developer of client/ server tools, some of which address complex business functions such a business process re-engineering. It has object and data modelling products and some very strong functionality.
The company recently launched a Microsoft Connectivity Pack, which provides the ability to generate and reverse Visual Basis, C++ and J++ code, as well as SQL Server and Access database. This product also provides a tight link to the Microsoft object and data models.
After betting on there being a second-generation client-server market and losing out, Unify has reinvented itself. The company is now developing its Web-based client/server system and has committed to Java and to Corba, although it is keeping an eye on DCom as well.
Forte is a company that is much talked about by other vendors. They say it has been a leader in the 4GL market, but has fallen behind in the objects and components developments. Yet Forte remains a force in the high-end distributed systems market and its does have object-oriented tools. It has a fairly low profile in the UK, but is working with many third parties and was one of the few vendors from this sector to be found at this year?s Comdef.
Platinum claims to be a worldwide top 20 software vendor, selling a set of sophisticated development tools that mainly sell on top of Oracle. Platinum is not that well known in the UK, but is starting to make its presence felt. Its most recent announcements were a new set of tools for Oracle 8, including an administration management scheme and component modelling tool. For developers working on Oracle databases, Platinum could have some attractive products.
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