The 6 Biggest Questions About the Future of Informix

(Including an Interview with Bruce Weed)

By Ron Flannery
Long-time IIUG Board Member and President of One Point Solutions
Email Ron
July 16, 2005

Here are the questions I've heard hundreds of times since IBM bought Informix in July of 2001:

They are indeed valid concerns - the kind of questions for which CIOs and CEOs need clear, concise answers. In this article, which includes an interview with Bruce Weed, Program Director for Informix Marketing, I'll give you the answers.

Opinions or Facts?

My involvement with the International Informix Users Group (www.iiug.org) since 1997 has kept me keenly tuned in to both the user and the company side of the Informix product picture. In addition, one of the two major areas of focus for my company is the sale and support of Informix products so I am very much committed and invested in its future. While some have called me an eternal optimist I do need to make very important decisions about the future; this article is based on everything I know right now.

I also believe I can back everything up with empirical evidence: The opinions I express here are based on hundreds of discussions with IBM and users as well as a review of current product roadmaps and releases. I constantly monitor the future of Informix products and I believe everything here is accurate at this point in time.

But, I haven't spoken to everyone or heard everything and I'd love to hear what you think! I'm not as connected with the users overseas and would like to hear those experiences as well. To share your experiences, please contact me at roniiug@onepointsol.com or US 248-887-8470x40; I'll publish a summary of feedback in next month's IIUG Insider.

Is IBM discontinuing Informix?

This is the question that has been troubling IT decision-makers since IBM's acquisition of the Informix product line. Unfortunately, this question has been very much fueled by IBM's database competitors in an attempt to win Informix users.

It is very true that during the initial year or so of the transition there was a lot of confusion and uncertainty about the Informix product line. However, IBM has listened to the feedback of the IIUG and its extremely dedicated Informix community, delivering several releases of Informix Dynamic Server, XPS, and Red Brick. An excellent example is the current release of IDS 10, a major version upgrade with a large number of features. In addition, the next several product releases are scheduled through at least 2009. These releases are not just bug-fixes: They will include a number of features and enhancements. In addition, there is no end-of-life scheduled for Informix-SE, OnLine Extended Edition, and XPS, while IDS 7 support has been extended to 2009.

The reality is that IBM is one of the largest software companies in the world and they will support their customers as much as possible. It doesn't make business sense to force users to migrate their deeply-embedded database solutions away from the Informix platform they trust. One of the quotes I've heard numerous times from Janet Perna, General Manager of the IBM Information Management division, is that "Informix users will have support as long as they need it." Based on the release schedules and several discussions with IBM, I believe this to be entirely true.

Is IBM is going to force Informix users to migrate to DB2?

During the first two years of the transition, IBM's direction was to support Informix users indefinitely while enhancing DB2 so that it would be an easy transition for Informix users. Also, we have heard that the message provided to the IBM sales force was that customers should strongly consider migrating to DB2. Neither of these strategies worked, and based on the IDS product announcements and repositioning of IDS as IBM's embedded database of choice (see the interview with Bruce Weed for details), it appears that IBM has indeed listened to the desires of its customer base.

The current positioning allows customers to migrate to DB2 if they choose. Outside of that, customers are free to stay on their product of choice. To determine your company's options, I suggest you contact an IBM representative or an IBM Business Partner that works with and understands Informix products.

Something that's really impressed me lately is that IBM executives are mentioning Informix a lot in their data-related presentations. In fact, IBM encourages users to use IDS as the embedded database of choice for ISV applications, hardware devices, and more. I most recently heard these messages at the IDUG conference in May 2005 from Janet Perna, General Manager of Information Management, and Bob Picciano, Vice President of Database Servers.

One exception is that IDS 7 support will end in 2009, which is an extension of the original date of 2006. I believe this is reasonable because IDS 9 and 10 are extensions of IDS 7 and they have received numerous enhancements. The newer products also have a very large development team and are among the flagship products of the IBM Information Management brand. lf my company built software products, I would probably do the same thing: It's very hard to support two or more major versions of the same product (IDS 7, IDS 9, IDS 10).

Will Informix be around in 5 years? Do I need to move to another database now?

Yes, IDS 10 and subsequent versions will be around, and no, you only need to move to another DBMS if it makes business sense (see "Find Out More" at the end of this article). IBM has laid out a very clear plan for Informix users and has documented it in several places on the Informix Web site. These plans include several major releases of the database products like Red Brick, UniVerse and UniData (a.k.a. U2), Informix Dynamic Server v10, and XPS. Other plans include maintenance releases of other products like Informix-SE, OnLine Extended Server, Informix-4GL, and XPS.

Of course it is true that not all software vendors will continue to support IDS 10 and other Informix versions. This is in fact one of the frustrations I've heard most often from Informix users. IBM is working aggressively to maintain this support (see the interview below) but the reality is that not all vendors will support the product lines indefinitely. In these cases, IBM is working to make it a very viable option for Informix users to migrate to DB2 UDB, and in some cases there is no charge for this service (see comments on SAP below).

(Before you send me a series of email flames, yes, I do know that this migration to a new DBMS can sometimes become very difficult and extremely time-consuming. My belief if that this would be the case for a migration to any new DMBS. It does appear that IBM is working to build many of the IDS features into DB2 and greatly simplify the migration, as Bruce Weed tells me in the interview.)

DB2 is a mainframe-only database, isn't it?

Many customers I've encountered seem apprehensive about moving to DB2 because of the proverbial perception that DB2 is a mainframe-only database. Until about 2 years ago this was my perception as well. This is definitely not the case: when Janet Perna became General Manager of the newly-formed data management software division of IBM in 1996 one of her first objectives was to establish DB2's presence in the distributed world, which includes several flavors of Linux, UNIX and Windows (LUW). The products include some very impressive GUI management tools (which most Informix users would love to see in their products) and a number of Web and security features. IBM's goal is to continue to share best-of-breed technologies between Informix and DB2 UDB.

Why doesn't IBM market Informix?

Actually this question takes us way back in time - to the pre-IBM days of Informix. At that time the question was "Why doesn't Informix market Informix?"! It is indeed true that the early Informix marketing - or lack thereof - greatly helped Oracle establish itself as the UNIX market leader at that time, even though Informix seemed to be clearly ahead in technology (something I believe to be very true today as well). Informix was indeed the inventor of - at least one of the major contributors to - relational database systems on UNIX in the early 80's, yet Oracle managed to gain enormous market share while Informix's technology flourished.

IBM's position on the marketing of the Informix products has been a sore spot with its users for as long as I can remember. The official position is that IBM simply doesn't do much product-level marketing and Informix is no exception. This has changed a bit. While IBM isn't necessarily launching massive Informix ad campaigns, they are making many efforts via ads and magazine articles to emphasize the fact that the product is still viable and will be around for a long time. Bruce discusses this in detail in the interview below.

This perceived lack of marketing has been one of my "hot buttons" over the last 3 years. The disturbing thing is that a lot of users and decision-makers say this proves that Informix is "going away." Based on the facts, I simply don't see how this theory has any credibility. I find myself asking these questions about this misconception:

You may not agree with IBM's marketing strategy for Informix, but it certainly doesn't mean they are killing the product!

What has IBM done for me, the Informix user, lately?

This statement has also been one of my hot buttons for the last year. IBM has done a LOT for the Informix user! Here are some examples that are documented on various portions of the Informix Web site:

These are just the things I remember. Part of the problem might be that users are simply not aware of these programs. Unless this information is proactively pushed to the users or you don't see them on the Informix or IIUG Web site, it would be impossible to know about them. To get a better feel for these things, I suggest you use IIUG.org, the IIUG Insider, and http://www.ibm.com/informix (or http://www.informix.com). I summarized these and other links in the "Find Out More" section at the end of this article.

The Interview with Bruce Weed

Following is an interview with Bruce Weed, Program Director for Informix Marketing. I asked him about all of the issues described previously in this article, and other topics as well. I appreciated his candor and the time he spent with me.

Flannery:

What is your role within the IBM Information Management software group. [This group includes DB2, business intelligence, content management, and a number of other data-related products. It's one of five software groups within IBM that include Tivoli, Lotus, Websphere, and Rational.]

Weed:

My title is Program Director and my role is the Informix Business Leader. I focus on both product management as well as product marketing. I work closely with both the development teams as well as the sales teams.

 
Flannery:

I've noticed a huge increase in the attention and marketing that IBM has given Informix over the last six months. For example: the major IDS 10 release; an extension of IDS 7 support through 2009; e-books and online product information; and the roadmap. This is great for the user community! What's behind all this?

Weed:

Janet Perna, general manager of IBM's Information Management division, has made a serious commitment to the Informix product lines. As a result, IBM has positioned Informix in several key target areas. This is an integral part of our portfolio, which now has Informix targeted towards specific markets like OLTP, small and medium business (SMB) as well as traditional Informix strongholds like telco, healthcare, retail, government, hospitality and finance. Also, IBM is positioning IDS as the embedded database of choice for OEM applications, hardware devices, and other third-party products that require an embedded database. The product is extremely stable and already included in a large number of services you frequently use.

 
Flannery:

What caused this sudden interest? Why didn't this happen sooner?

Weed:

It is part of an overall repositioning of the market space for the Informix product line. We want to make sure we are being responsive to our dedicated Informix client base. We are committed to IDS as a key part of our over all information management portfolio.

 
Flannery:

Along those same lines, what can we expect in the next 6-12 months?

Weed:

Partners and customers can expect to see InfoBahn events worldwide launching IDS V10 and IDS Express through the end of the year, Chat with Labs teleconferences, and continued enhanced support for local user groups. For example, we have funded a "world tour" that brings Mark Scranton and other well-known IBM technologists to a large number of user groups around the world, providing technical "deep dives" for IDS 10, all funded by IBM.

IBM also provided support that made Informix an integral part of the IDUG conference in Denver from May 22-26. The WatchIT electronic communication is also very popular [see thesoftwareinstitute.org].

Essentially, we're trying to continue what the users have found very successful and we're beefing up areas based on additional user needs. We will continue to support and show attention to the user community and we greatly value all of the input that the IIUG has provided from its users.

 
Flannery:

Many users have complained over the last few years about IBM's lack of marketing the Informix product lines. What are your plans for Informix marketing and ads?

Weed:

2004 was really a launch-pad for 2005. We will start to include more direct marketing to customers and partners. This marketing will be targeted at small and medium business (SMB) for technical and line of business users [upper management]. The marketing will focus on ease of administration, stability, and scalability - the "no-fuss" philosophy. We have included Informix in corporate ads launched at the end of 2004 and that continue in 2005.

We'll also seek more interaction with the press and analysts. This strategy will create a better understanding about how IBM will be continuing to support and enhance Informix products.

 
Flannery:

We've been told that IBM will be presenting Informix as THE embedded database solution in the IBM database family. Is this correct? Can you tell us what types of products you had in mind?

Weed:

Yes, that is correct. We have four areas in which we position the Informix products:

  1. OLTP. This has been and will continue to be a sweet spot for Informix Dynamic Server. Informix is the high-availability OLTP engine of choice for many global businesses, organizations and even governments.
  2. Small & Medium Business (SMB). IBM is making a strong drive to provide the right products for the SMB market. Informix really is a great solution for SMB customers: It's low maintenance, extremely reliable, easy to maintain, and well-priced to help these customers.
  3. OEM and embedded. We'll increase Informix support for mobile devices in DB2 Everyplace. Cloudscape will continue to be the open source solution for Eclipse and Java. U2 provides multi-value applications for specific vertical markets. IDS is more of the industrial strength embedded for higher-end switches and devices. Also with ISVs that embed the IDS into their software products. We're looking at some new programs and initiatives that will further embed Informix into applications and devices. We'll have more details soon. Informix is already embedded in many services that you use every day including 911 call services, retail, hotel reservation systems, paying for gas, and a lot more.
  4. Key Industry Verticals like telephone companies for embedded devices (routers, etc.) and retail point-of-sale databases
 
Flannery:

What are your plans to promote continued IDS support with ISV vendors, like Baan and others ?

Weed:

IBM is aggressively engaging its ISV partners. We are focused on new ways to communicate with this partner set. We are leveraging webcasts, Infobahns, forums, as well as other methods to reach out. I want to make sure that ISVs understand the strategy around Informix and the growth we have been seeing in 2005. Informix is the place to be.

 
Flannery:

I know that the issue of a "forced migration" to DB2 has been mentioned and feared by a lot of users. This is also constantly being mentioned by IBM's competitors as a form of FUD [fear, uncertainty, doubt] to convince users that this is true. I personally know that IBM does NOT force migration and gives the users the option to stay on IDS if they want. Will IBM continue to keep the option of staying on IDS 9 and 10 available to current users?

Weed:

Actually, IBM is encouraging its customers to stay on Informix. Ultimately customers can choose to run DB2 in addition to or as a replacement for Informix if the situation warrants it (e.g., an ISV that no longer supports IDS). The message is to migrate only if it's warranted for your business.

 
Flannery:

What about the FUD being spread by other vendors such as IBM's biggest competitor in the UNIX space ("O") and the Windows company?

Weed:

Much of our upcoming marketing will address these inaccuracies. It is very clear from all the things we've done for Informix [described throughout this article] that IBM has made a strong, long-term commitment.

 
Flannery:

What are the benefits for users to move to DB2? Will most IDS features be placed in future versions of DB2?

Weed:

We are leveraging the technology of both products to make each other better. For example, Unicode in IDS 9.4 came from DB2; likewise, high availability data replication in DB2 8.2 ("Stinger") came from IDS. There is a 2-way cross-sharing of technology between the products. We are aggressively continuing to develop both products. A good analogy would be with some of the US automakers that have similar products, such as Pontiac and Buick - they use many shared parts and underlying architecture is very similar. Customers use the one they like the best.

 
Flannery:

Please tell me about IDS 10's features.

Weed:

IDS 10 is even faster than IDS 9.4, which was already the fastest version of Informix - about 15% faster than IDS 7.31. Some of the features include online index rebuilds; rolling application upgrades, which allow you to stay online while upgrading applications; column-level encryption; compliance for Basel 2, SOX, and HIPAA; manageability - installation time is much simplified with new installer; and single-user mode for administration. We describe all of these features in detail on the Informix homepage.

 
Flannery:

What are some major reasons that IDS 7 users would want to migrate to IDS 10?

Weed:

Security, performance, Internet/Java, scalability. Server consolidation - for example, zSeries mainframe running IDS 10 Linux. IDS 10 also gives you the option to move to new hardware, perhaps running Linux on xSeries or pSeries. Overall, it provides cost savings, higher performance and functionality with today's standards.

 
Flannery:

Does IBM plan to continue support for the IIUG and its activities? What value does IIUG bring to the table for IBM?

Weed:

IBM feels that IIUG brings tremendous value. They help us understand the wants and needs of our customers and partners. The IIUG constantly works with the user community and their insight is invaluable. IBM will continue to support the IIUG's activities and user conferences. Carolyn Woods is an IIUG board member that reports directly to me. Mark Scranton has been funded to travel to dozens of cities around the world. These investments and others really show IBM's commitment.

 
Flannery:

Can you describe the integration of IDS with other IBM products, including WebsSphere, Rational, Content Manager, Information Integrator, and Tivoli?

Weed:

Some examples are WebsSphere MQ, WebSphere Studio, and Rational EGL. Tivoli provides monitoring and data protection. Rational Application Developer for WebSphere provides a possible migration path for 4GL users. Content Manager provides IDS connections via Context Media. We also provide Lotus Enterprise Integration and Workplace compatibility. We're working on more integrations as we move forward, including Informix support for the Alphablox OLAP development environment, Informix support from DB2 tools, and connectivity to DB2 Everyplace.

 
Flannery:

Any closing comments?

Weed:

IBM is looking forward to continue meeting the needs of our customers and business partners. We want to delight our Informix users. Our goal is to continue to grow our customer base and provide increased visibility around the Informix product lines.

Flannery's Conclusions and Your Feedback

There you have it. I believe that from everything I've seen happening in the Informix world over the last year and Bruce and Janet's comments, Informix will be around for a long time and the users have many choices. I know that not everyone will agree with me and I'll undoubtedly be "flamed" by some users worldwide, so please send me your thoughts! You can reach me at ron@iiug.org or by phone at (248) 887-8470 Ext. 40. I'll publish a follow-up in next month's IIUG Insider.

Find Out More

There is a wealth of resources and information about Informix. The links below should bear out many of the facts stated in this article and interview.

The IIUG's homepage, including the latest news and various links:
http://www.iiug.org
Informix homepage:
http://www.informix.com or
http://www.ibm.com/software/data/informix/
Informix news:
http://www-306.ibm.com/software/data/informix/news/
Informix portfolio update:
http://www.watchit.com/informix/
Informix e-book:
http://www.ebookhost.net/db2informix/register.asp
The IIUG Insider, including plenty of news and technical and product-related articles about Informix:
http://www.iiug.org/news/insider.html
Real world experiences with Informix and other IBM products:
http://www.thesoftwareinstitute.org