Historical notes on Cullinet Software (also called Cullinane), vendor of the database management system IDMS. Related subjects include:
This is part of a three-post series on enterprise application software over the decades, meant to serve as background to a DBMS2 post on issues in enterprise apps.
- The first lays out very general issues in understanding and subdividing this multi-faceted sector.
- The second calls out characteristics of specific application areas.
- The third (this one) discusses application software products’ underlying technology.
0. I’d like to discuss the technology underneath packaged application software. To create some hope of the discussion being coherent, let’s split apps into a few categories:
- Major/core suite, large enterprises – e.g. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).
- Major/core suite, smaller enterprises — e.g., the province of Progress and Intersystems VARs (Value-Added Resellers).
- Remarkably distributed applications. This is where a lot of the more unusual technology choices cluster.
- Other point solutions. Sometimes, a guy just needs a catch-all category.
1. The idea of bundling ERP (or its predecessor MRP) with an underlying DBMS has been around for a long time.
- Cullinet and Cincom tried it, but with pre-relational DBMS. Oops.
- Oracle has always had that strategy.
- A sizable minority of SAP’s customers ran
And for smaller enterprises, it has been the norm, not the exception.
|Categories: Application software, Cullinet, Database management systems, IBM, Informix, Microsoft, Oracle, Pre-relational era, SAP, Sybase||5 Comments|
John Imlay passed away last week. Let me start by saying:
- John was a jolly huckster. Of the entrepreneurs I’ve known with manic amounts of sales energy, he’s the one I can least imagine saying or doing an unkind thing. Indeed, the breathless bit about John’s “kindheartedness” toward the end of this 2010 article doesn’t ring too false.*
- John wasn’t technically the founder of MSA, but he might as well have been. (Analogy: Steve Case at AOL.) When he got there, it was Management Science Atlanta, a failing hodgepodge of tiny businesses. He turned into Management Science America, a leading software company of its day, and the one that “should” have become what SAP is today.
- My 2006 post on MSA Memories has 90 comments, the vast majority of which are from former MSA employees who loved working there.
*Not as persuasive is the story about the missed chance to buy Microsoft in 1981. I knew a LOT of folks at MSA in the 1980s, and nobody ever mentioned that. Also, the story has an obviously wrong Microsoft fat (what city it was in).
John Imlay was a showman, best known for giving speeches with live animals or other dramatic visual aids, as per this short 1994 New York Times interview. But he was also a tireless, lead-from-the-front seller. An MSA salesman who booked John into an exhausting schedule of sales calls could expect a return visit from his CEO soon, because he was using Imlay’s time optimally. Indeed, I didn’t really know John all that well, probably for a couple of reasons:
- He was rarely around when I visited; he was much more likely to be out on the road selling.
- This was back in my stock analyst days, and I generally spent more time with detail-oriented folks, numbers- and product-oriented ones alike.
The commercial computing, software and services industries have existed for half a century or so each. It might be interesting to review how their pricing and delivery models have evolved over time.
1960s and 1970s
Modern IT is commonly dated from the introduction of the IBM 360 mainframe in 1964-5. But even before then, there was a growing industry in what we’d now call outsourced services, specifically in payroll processing; major players included Automatic Data Processing (ADP), the company that gave us Senator Frank Lautenberg, and a variety of banks. This was (and to this day remains) a comprehensive service, priced by unit of work (e.g., number of payroll checks cut).
IBM mainframes, which quickly came to dominate the market, were in the 1960s and 70s commonly rented. IBM software that ran on them was hence typically priced on a rental/subscription basis as well. The independent packaged software companies, however, often preferred to get paid up front,* and hence sold perpetual licenses to their software. Annual maintenance fees for the licensed software started in the range of 10% of the perpetual license or even less, but migrated up to today’s 20-22% range.
|Categories: Analytics, Application software, ASK Computer Systems, Computer Associates, Computer services, Cullinet, EDS, IBM, MSA, Oracle||6 Comments|
Recently I expressed doubts about Actian’s DBMS-conglomerate growth strategy. For context, perhaps I should review other DBMS vendors’ acquisition strategies in the past. Some — quite a few — worked out well; others — including many too minor to list — did not.
In the pre-relational days, it was common practice to buy products that hadn’t succeeded yet, and grow with them. Often these were programs written at enterprises, rather than third-party packages. Most of Cullinet’s product line, including its flagship DBMS IDMS, was came into the company that way. ADR, if memory serves, acquired the tiny vendor who created DATACOM/DB.
Then things slowed down. A Canadian insurance company oddly bought Computer Corporation of America, to utter non-success. (At least I got an investment banking finder’s fee on the deal.) Computer Associates, which did brilliantly in acquiring computer operations software, had a much rockier time with DBMS. It acquired Cullinet, Applied Data Research, and ASK/Ingres — among others — and didn’t have much growth or other joy with any of them.
Indeed, Ingres has been acquired three times, and hasn’t accomplished much for any of the acquirers (ASK, Computer Associates, Actian).
I used to think that Oracle’s acquisition of RDB provided key pieces of what became Oracle’s own extensibility technology. Andy Mendelsohn, however, disputed this vehemently — at least by his standards of vehemence — and his sources are better than mine. Rather, I now believe as I wrote in 2011:
… while Oracle’s track record with standalone DBMS acquisitions is admirable (DEC RDB, MySQL, etc.), Oracle’s track record of integrating DBMS acquisitions into the Oracle product itself is not so good. (Express? Essbase? The text product line? None of that has gone particularly well.)
Experiences were similar for some other relational DBMS pioneers. Read more
|Categories: Applied Data Research, ASK Computer Systems, Computer Associates, Cullinet, Database management systems, IBM, Informix, Ingres, Microsoft, Oracle, Sybase, Teradata||2 Comments|
I recently wrote a long post on the premise that enterprise analytic applications are not like the other (operational) kind. That begs the question(s): What are operational enterprise applications like?
Historically, the essence of enterprise applications has been data management — they capture business information, then show it to you. User interfaces are typically straightforward in the UI technology of the era — forms, reports, menus, and the like. The hard part of building enterprise applications is getting the data structures right. That was all true in the 1970s; it’s all still true today.
Indeed, for many years, the essence of an application software acquisition was the database design. Maintenance streams were often unimportant; code would get thrown out and rewritten. But the application’s specific database structure would be adapted into an extension to the acquirer’s own.
Examples that come to mind from the pre-relational era include: Read more
|Categories: Application software, Cullinet, McCormack & Dodge, MSA, Pre-relational era, SAP||2 Comments|
This post is part of a short series on the history of analytics, covering:
- Historical notes on analytics — the pre-computer era
- Historical notes on analytic terminology (this post)
- Historical notes on analytics — departmental adoption
Discussions of the history of analytic technology are complicated by the broad variety of product category names that have been used over the decades. So let me collect here in one place some notes on how (and when) various terms have been used, specifically:
- Management information systems
- Decision support (systems)
- Report writer
- Fourth-generation language
- Executive information system
- Business intelligence
- OLAP (OnLine Analytic Processing)
On April Fool’s Day, it is traditional to spread false stories that you hope will sound true. Last year, however, I decided to do the opposite – I posted some true stories that, at least for a moment, sounded implausible or false. This year I’m going to try to turn the idea into a kind of blog-tagging meme.*
*A blog-tagging meme is, in essence, an internet chain letter without the noxious elements.
Without further ado, the Rules of the No-Fooling Meme are:
Rule 1: Post on your blog 1 or more surprisingly true things about you,* plus their explanations. I’m starting off with 10, but it’s OK to be a lot less wordy than I’m being. I suggest the following format:
- A noteworthy capsule sentence. (Example: “I was not of mortal woman born.”)
- A perfectly reasonable explanation. (Example: “I was untimely ripped from my mother’s womb. In modern parlance, she had a C-section.”)
*If you want to relax the “about you” part, that’s fine too.
Rule 2: Link back to this post. That explains what you’re doing.
Rule 3: Drop a link to your post into the comment thread. That will let people who check here know that you’ve contributed too.
Rule 4: Ping 1 or more other people encouraging them to join in the meme with posts of their own.
Hopefully, the end result of all this will be that we all know each other just a little bit better! And hopefully we’ll preserve some cool stories as well.
To kick it off, here are my entries. (Please pardon any implied boastfulness; a certain combustibility aside, I’ve lived a pretty fortunate life.)
I was physically evicted by hotel security from a DBMS vendor’s product announcement venue. It was the Plaza Hotel in NYC, at Cullinet’s IDMS/R announcement. Phil Cooper, then Cullinet’s marketing VP, blocked my entrance to the ballroom for the main event, and then called hotel security to have me removed from the premises.
A few years later, the same Phil Cooper stood me up for a breakfast meeting in his own house in Wellesley. When one’s around Phil Cooper, weird things just naturally happen. Read more
The idea of specialized hardware for running database management systems has been around for a long time. For example, in the late 1970s, UK national champion computer hardware maker ICL offered a “Content-Addressable Data Store” (or something like that), based on Cullinane’s CODASYL database management system IDMS. EDIT: See corrections in the comment thread. (My PaineWebber colleague Steve Smith had actually sold – or at least attempted to sell – that product, and provided useful support when Cullinane complained to my management about my DBMS market conclusions.) But for all practical purposes, the first two significant “database machine” vendors were Britton-Lee and Teradata. And since Britton-Lee eventually sold out to Teradata (after a brief name change to ShareBase), Teradata is entitled to whatever historical glory accrues from having innovated the database management appliance category.
Wikipedia’s current article on Cullinet is long, detail-laden, and slanted. The difficulties are not of the sort to be fixed with my usual pinpoint Wikipedia edits. So I’ll just reproduce it here, commenting as I go. As for copyright — this particular post is as GPLed as it needs to be to comply with Wikipedia’s copyleft rules. All other rights remain reserved.
The company was originally started by John Cullinane and Larry English in 1968 as Cullinane Corporation. Their idea was to sell pre-packaged software to mainframe users, which was at that time a new concept in an era when enterprises only used internally developed applications or the software that came bundled with the hardware.
|Categories: Application software, Companies and products, Computer Associates, Cullinet, Database management systems, Industry sectors, Pre-relational era||10 Comments|
Computerworld got software industry history a bit wrong by implying that John Cullinane innovated packaged software (specifically, they said “packaged application”). Here’s what really happened, as I learned soon after becoming an analyst in the early 1980s:
- Most early packaged software companies were hybrids, offering both packaged products and professional services (including services unrelated to the packaged products).
- Applied Data Research, led by Martin “Marty” Goetz, is the clear innovator in third-party packaged software. Not only is ADR’s Autoflow the generally acknowledged first packaged software product from an independent company (“independent” as opposed to, say, IBM), but ADR was a leader in legal and political anti-trust action to gain market space to sell against IBM.
- If you use the term “application” narrowly — so that anything whose main function was to help manage IT shops and activities is “system software” rather than “application” — there’s no way Cullinane was an early leader. Think instead of American Software, MSA, McCormack & Dodge, or several specialists in regulated verticals such as banking and insurance. But if you use the term “application” loosely, ADR gets priority as noted above.
- The credit Cullinane usually gets for leading the way in software company success (e.g., first IPO of a product company) is absolutely justified.
|Categories: Application software, Applied Data Research, Cullinet, IBM, McCormack & Dodge, MSA, Pre-relational era, System software||9 Comments|