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.
|Categories: Database management systems, Pre-relational era, Software AG, System software||13 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||6 Comments|
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.
- Official-looking Ingres Project history
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.
|Categories: Applied Data Research, Computer Associates, Cullinet, Database management systems, IBM, Ingres, McCormack & Dodge, Oracle, Software AG, System software||1 Comment|
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.
- Ingres was of course the first of several DBMS companies spun off from UC Berkeley’s INGRES research project, and one of several started with Mike Stonebraker’s involvement. I wrote about that history briefly in my now-defunct Computerworld blog.
- Ingres (then called RTI) and Oracle (then called RSI, for Relational Software Inc.) were of course arch-rivals. As a general rule, Ingres was first to market with new features such as a 4GL or a truly distributed DBMS. Oracle, however, was the first to market with the features customers most cared about, at a level of completeness they found acceptable. Eventually, when Sybase was a factor too, Ingres was always betwixt and between — everybody’s second choice, but not the first choice of enough buyers to keep on prospering. (Later on in the 1990s, Gupta took over the Ingres role in the low-end market — the product was broader than Powersoft, but who cared?)
- Ingres was eventually merged into ASK Computer Systems. While surely a distraction, that’s not what killed it. Each predecessor company had its own problems, and they pretty much stayed out of each other’s way, at least in product strategy. What killed them is that neither side of the business managed to stay fully competitive in product.
- Ingres’s fatal technological mistake was whiffing on parallelism. And it did so in the most painful of ways. Ingres had a joint development project going in the Portland, OR area with Sequent, to develop a parallelized version of their DBMS. They pulled out due to expense, and Informix stepped in. And that’s how Informix managed to be competitive with Oracle in parallel processing, while lack of competitiveness in that area is what doomed Sybase and Ingres. Ouch!!!
- A second Ingres failing probably wasn’t as big as I thought at the time. This was an inability to offer abstract datatypes, aka object/relational, aka UDBMS (where the “U” is for “universal”). I thought this feature would be hugely important, and my opinion on that score probably was a big part of influencing Informix to overpay for Illustra. But Microsoft has never had the feature, and it doesn’t seem to have suffered all that much in the marketplace for its lack.
- ASK was doing even worse on the product side than Ingres — it never came out with a decent GUI version of the product, although ASK did get a license to resell Baan’s code — and the whole sorry mess was eventually sold to CA. CA has a well-deserved reputation for slashing development costs and profiting from slowly-dying software products. But I watched this acqusition from the inside, and to this day I think they really wanted to make the product competitive. But there was one not-so-little problem …
- … CA ran off all of Ingres’s engineers right after the acquisition. CA’s policy upon acquiring companies was requiring employees who wanted to keep their jobs to sign non-compete agreements. In Ingres’s case, however, that policy was a spectacular failure. Oracle, Informix, Sybase, and much of IBM’s DBMS development were all located in the Bay Area. Finding another local job for these guys (and gals) was EASY. Competitors went into a feeding frenzy hiring Ingres engineers, and there was essentially NOBODY left. In my judgment there was a reasonable chance CA could revitalize development with an aggressive investment strategy, but they ultimately blinked. And with very limited ongoing development, the product obviously faded quickly as a mainstream competitor.
I think I’ll go write about the rest of the story over in the DBMS 2 blog.