Database management systems

Historical notes on the database management system (DBMS) business. Related subjects include:

March 30, 2010

No-fooling: A new blog-tagging meme

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:

*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

July 2, 2009

Historical significance of TPC benchmarks

In case you missed it, I’ve had a couple of recent conversations about the TPC-H benchmark.  Some people suggest that, while almost untethered from real-world computing, TPC-Hs inspire real world product improvements.  Richard Gostanian even offered a specific example of same — Solaris-specific optimizations for the ParAccel Analytic Database.

That thrilling advance notwithstanding, I’m not aware of much practical significance to any TPC-H-related DBMS product development. But multiple people this week have reminded me this week the TPC-A and TPC-B played a much greater role spurring product development in the 1990s.  And I indeed advised clients in those days that they’d better get their TPC results up to snuff, because they’d be at severe competitive disadvantage until they did.

It’s tough to be precise about examples, because few vendors will admit they developed important features just to boost their benchmark scores. But it wasn’t just TPCs — I recall marketing wars around specific features (row-level locking, nested subquery) or trade-press benchmarks (PC World?) as much as around actual TPC benchmarks. Indeed, Oracle had an internal policy called WAR, which stood for Win All Reviews; trade press benchmarks were just a subcase of that.

And then there’s Dave DeWitt’s take. Dave told me yesterday at SIGMOD that it’s unfortunate Jim Gray-inspired debit/credit TPCs won out over the Wisconsin benchmarks, because that led the industry down the path of focusing on OLTP at the expense of decision support/data warehousing. Whether or not the causality is as strict as Dave was suggesting, it’s hard to dispute that mainstream DBMS met or exceeded almost all users’ OTLP performance needs by early in this millenium. And it’s equally hard to dispute that those systems* performance on analytic workloads, as of last year, still needed a great deal of improvement.

*IBM’s DB2 perhaps excepted. And I say “last year” so as to duck the questions of whether Exadata finally solved Oracle’s problems and whether Madison will once Microsoft releases it.

October 2, 2008

A bit of DB2 history, per IBM

I meant to put up a longer post some months back, reproducing some of the 25th anniversary DB2 history IBM provided, courtesy of Jeff Jones and his team. Seems I didn’t get around to it. Maybe later.

Anyhow, I ran across the following concise info, from a January, 2003 web page posted by (who else?) Jeff Jones: Read more

September 15, 2008

Database machines and data warehouse appliances – the early days

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.

Read more

May 27, 2008

Wikipedia on Cullinet and my comments on same

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.

Actually, Applied Data Research got there first. Read more

December 8, 2007

Software AG memories

Software AG was the first important non-US software company,* selling the ADABAS DBMS and associated tools. These included the fourth-generation language Natural, the transaction processing monitor Complete (in those days DBMS were sold with their own associated TP monitors), and a whole lot of modules named Adathis and Adathat. (These product names were widely regarded as being a bit silly, to the point that the company joined in the mirth and passed out Complete Natural Adamugs.)

*SAP was founded around the same time, but didn’t become particularly influential until later on.

Actually, there were two important Software AGs – the parent company in Darmstadt, Germany, and the North American distributor Software AG of North America. SAGNA, in Reston, Virginia, was run by John Maguire, of whom many stories are told. It is said that he once pulled over to help a man change a flat tire on his car and wound up selling him a copy of ADABAS. It is said that he used to stroll by Cullinane booths at trade shows and pronounce “I’m John Norris Maguire, and I’m going to bury you.” And while I can’t exactly confirm these stories – I knew the guy, and I find them all to be eminently plausible. (Sadly, John died young, not long after selling SAGNA back to the Darmstadt company and buying himself a 44-foot powerboat.) (Edit: Happily, that part turns out to be wrong!)

ADABAS was an excellent product – one of the three major inverted-list DBMS, the other two being Computer Corporation of America’s Model 204 and ADR’s Datacom/DB. Natural was also one of the top 4GLs. At the time I judged that ADR’s Datacom/IDEAL combo had slightly surpassed ADABAS/Natural. 20-some-odd years later, ADABAS seems to have the significantly more vibrant of the two product suites’ surviving customer bases, but I think that has much more to do with the products’ subsequent owners than with their technical or market situations back in 1983.

As was the case for most of the early software vendors, some major talent passed through Software AG. Richard Currier may now claim a lot more credit for a book project he wrote a chapter for than he actually deserves, but he’s also one of the great marketing minds from the early part of the software industry. (He also ignited my passion for software industry anecdotes and industry, and hence may be regarded as a kind of absentee grandfather of this blog.) Bob Preger went from being the second salesman at Software AG to being the first at Oracle.

I visited Darmstadt once, and met honchos Peter Schnell (founder and ADABAS designer) and Peter Page (Natural designer). It was soon after they’d moved into a new building, and Peter Schnell was very proud of the hexagon-based oak desks he’d personally designed for programmers to work at. I came away thinking this was an example of Edifice Complex, not to mention micromanagement, and in retrospect I seem to have been right.

After DB2 blew the other mainframe DBMS out of the water, things got choppy for Software AG. SAGNA was bought by Darmstadt, then spun out and taken public again, then bought again. The company came out with ADABAS-D and Tamino, neither of which was a great success. Even so, it’s still alive, kicking, and even growing, something which can be said for very few of the other leading software firms of its day. Indeed, I just posted a long Software AG update over on DBMS 2, my blog about current-day DBMS and related technologies.

January 21, 2007

Why Michael Stonebraker matters

My deal when I blogged at Computerworld was that I could reuse my stuff if I linked to them. Below is the meat of a post about Michael Stonebraker I made in May, 2005.

Edit: There’s now a whole Michael Stonebraker section on DBMS2.

I’m probably going to mention Mike Stonebraker’s name in one or more other blog entries soon, and not necessarily in the context of always agreeing with him. So I’d like to take a moment to point out that he’s the greatest living contributor to database technology, and this may even have been true when Dr. E. F. “Ted” Codd was still alive.

Along with Eugene Wong and grad student Jerry Held, Mike founded and ran the INGRES research project at UC Berkely, which directly spun off the company later known as Ingres, Oracle’s chief direct competitor in its early years. One of his key lieutenants (and successors) was Bob Epstein, who designed Sybase‘s database technology, which is also the core of Microsoft‘s DBMS. Jerry Held went on to run much of development at Tandem, starting with Non-Stop SQL, the first industrial-strength relational DBMS, and later ran the database products for Oracle.

Mike himself went on with the POSTGRES project, which introduced an approach to user defined functions and abstract data types that swept the DBMS industry. POSTGRES begat Illustra, which was acquired by and became integral to the products of Informix, where Mike also served as CTO. Informix’s database technology was of course later taken over by IBM.

That’s quite a track record, although there are also a couple of more or less failed startups along the way. …

The IEEE awarded Mike its most recent John von Neumann medal, which seems to be a big deal. Here’s the citation.

Related link:

February 9, 2006

Prerelational DBMS vendors — a quick overview

IBM. With BOMP and D-BOMP, IBM was probably the first company to commercialize precursors to DBMS. (BOMP stood for Bill Of Materials Planning, foreshadowing the hierarchical architecture of IMS.) Out of those grew DL/1 and IMS, IBM’s flagship hierarchical DBMS, and the world’s first dominant DBMS product(s). Of course, IBM also innovated relational DBMS, via the research of E. F. “Ted” Codd, then some prototype products, and eventual the mainframe version of DB2. To this day DB2 on the mainframe remains one of the world’s major DBMS, as does the separate but related product of DB2 for “open systems.”

Cincom. In the 1970s, Cincom was probably the most successful independent software product company. Its flagship product was Total, a shallow-network DBMS that was a little more general than the strictly hierarchical IMS. What’s more, Total ran on almost any brand of computer hardware. Cincom remains independent and privately held to this day.

Cullinane/Cullinet. Charlie Bachman innovated a true network DBMS at Honeywell, but it didn’t turn into a serious product at that time. B. F. Goodrich, however, ran a version. This is what John Cullinane’s company bought and turned into IDMS, which at least on the mainframe supplanted Total as the technical, mind share, and probably revenue market leader. Cullinet (as it was then called) ran into technical difficulties, however, losing ground to the more flexible index-based DBMS. It was eventually sold to Computer Associates.

A lot of software industry leaders cut their teeth at Cullinet, notably Andrew “Flip” Filipowski, later the colorful founder of Platinum. Other alumni include Renato “Ron” Zambonini, Dave Litwack, Dave Ireland, and the original PowerBuilder development team. John Landry and Bob Weiler ran the firm for a while toward the end, but they don’t really count; rather, they’re the most prominent alumni of applications pioneer McCormack & Dodge.

Note: Index-based is a term I used in and probably coined for my first report in 1982, comprising both inverted-list and relational RDBMS, as opposed to the link(ed)-list hierarchical and network products such as IMS, Total, and IDBMS. The companies that beat Cullinet were long-time rival Software AG, and then especially Applied Data Research; then all three of those independents were blown out by IBM’s DB2. And then the whole mainframe DBMS business was in turn obsoleted by the rise of UNIX … but I’m getting ahead of my story.

Software AG. Like Cincom, Germany-based Software AG is a 1970s DBMS pioneer that has always remained independent and privately held. Sort of. Twice, Software AG of North America was spun off as a separate, eventually public company. Software AG’s flagship DBMS was the inverted list product ADABAS. SAP’s MaxDB was also owned by Software AG for a while (and seemingly by every other significant German computer company as well – or more precisely, by Nixdorf where it was developed, and by Siemens after it bought Nixdorf).

I actually visited Software AG in Darmstadt once. Founder Peter Schnell and key techie Peter Page were both gracious hosts. Schnell was proud of their new building, and especially of the hexagon-based wooden dual desks he’d personally designed. General analytic rule – when the CEO is focused on the décor, this is not a good sign for the company’s near-term prospects. (I call this having an “edifice complex.”)

Applied Data Research (ADR). ADR is often credited as being the first independent software company, having introduced products in the late 1960s and prevailed in antitrust struggles against IBM to allow the business to survive. Basically, it sold programmer productivity tools. This led it to acquire Datacom/DB, an inverted-list DBMS developed in the Dallas area. In the early 1980s, Datacom/DB began to boom, and was on a track to surpass both IDMS and ADABAS in market share until DB2 showed up and blew them all away. ADR was particularly aided by its fourth-generation language (4GL) IDEAL, which was an excellent product notwithstanding the famous State of New Jersey fiasco. (As John Landry said to me about that one, “4GLs are powerful tools. In particular, they allow you to write bad programs really quickly.”)

ADR was an underappreciated powerhouse, boasting all of the Fortune 100 as customers way back in the early 1980s (yes, even archrival IBM). When the DBMS business stalled, however, ADR was quickly sold — first to Ameritech (the Illinois-based Baby Bell company), and soon thereafter to Computer Associates.

Computer Corporation of America (CCA). CCA’s DBMS Model 204 may have been the best of the prerelational products, boasting an inverted-list architecture akin to that of ADABAS and Datacom/DB. The company was also interesting in that it was first and foremost a government contract research shop, and hence did all sorts of interesting prototype work that sadly never got commercialized. In about 1983 it became that the company wasn’t going anywhere, and it put itself up for sale.

I was personally instrumental in that decision. Our investment banker pretended he was considering taking CCA public. CCA President Jim Rothnie showed us revenue projections. I asked how he had gotten them. He replied that he had taken the market size projection 5 years out, assumed 10%, and drawn a “plausible curve.” However, I quickly got Socratic with him. “How many salesmen do you have?” “How much revenue does the average experienced salesman produce?” “How many experienced salesmen do you expect to have next year?” “How high do you think their average productivity can grow?” “Let us multiply.” (Yes, I really said that. I can be a jerk. And anyway Jim was the sort of analytic guy one can say that to without giving serious offense.)

CCA was sold to a Canadian insurance company whose name I’ve now forgotten. Eventually, it was spun back out (perhaps after some intermediate changes of ownership), and resurfaced as primarily a data integration company, called Praxis.

In the real old days (mid 1970s, perhaps), Model 204 was resold by Informatics (later Informatics General, later the hostile takeover that became the guts of Sterling Software, which like so many other companies was eventually absorbed into Computer Associates). I know this because Richard Currier used to sell the product when he worked at Informatics. That probably makes Richard and me about the only two people who still remember the fact.

Hmm. I forgot to mention Intel’s System 2000. Well, truth be told it was a dying product even back when I first became an analyst in 1981, and I recall nothing about it, except Gene Lowenthal’s observation that Intel had had trouble selling chips and DBMS through the same salesforce. I think Al Sisto, who I probably met when he was head of sales at RTI (Relational Technology, Inc. — later called Ingres), came out of that business, but I’m not 100% sure. I remember Pete Tierney from that RTI management team more clearly anyway, although that’s mainly because we stayed in touch at subsequent companies over the years.

November 14, 2005

Ingres memories

The news about Ingres being spun off by Computer Associates brings back a lot of memories. First of all, Ingres (then called Relational Technology Inc.) was one of the centerpieces of my first-ever research trip to the West Coast in April, 1982. Second, the day CA’s acquisition of Ingres closed, Charles Wang (CA’s CEO, of course), called me personally and asked me to consult to CA about their forthcoming product strategy. It was an intense, month-long project, perhaps still the single largest one I’ve ever done.

So with no further ado, here some observations of and about Ingres through the years.

I think I’ll go write about the rest of the story over in the DBMS 2 blog.

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