The Informix DBMS developed from the pioneering Ingres system that also led to Sybase and SQL Server. For a time in the 1990s Informix was the second most popular database system, after Oracle. Success did not last very long, however, and by 2000 a series of management blunders had all but destroyed the company. In 2001 IBM purchased Informix in order to gain access to its existing market share and customer base. Long-term plans to merge Informix technology with DB2 have emerged, since the Informix Arrowhead project has now become the DB2 Arrowhead. IBM has also undertaken to support older versions.
|Table of contents
2 Innovative Software acquisition
3 Version 7
4 Illustra acquisition
5 Corporate misgovernance
6 Misgovernance indictments
7 Product summary
Roger Sippl and Laura King worked at Cromenco, an early S-100/CP/M company, where they developed a small relational database based on ISAM techniques, as a part of a report-writer software package.
Sippl and King left Cromenco to found Relational Database Systems (RDS) in 1980. Their first product, Marathon, could be seen as a 16-bit version of their earlier ISAM work, released on Onyx, a version of Unix for early ZiLOG microprocessors.
At RDS, they turned their attention to the emerging SQL market, and adapted a version of the publicly-available Ingres source code to the Unix platform. At the time Ingres had a number of serious limitations:
Through the early 1980s Informix remained a small player, but as Unix grew in popularity during the mid-1980s, their fortunes changed. By 1986 they had become large enough to float a successful IPO, and changed the company name to Informix Software. A series of releases followed, including the splitting of the product line starting with Version 5 into Informix OnLine with a new query engine (known for a time as Turbo), and Informix-SE, a re-named version of the original system.
Following the lead of a number of other database developers, Informix then started looking at tools to build database applications. Informix-4GL was the result, a text-based forms application.
Innovative Software acquisition
In 1988, Informix purchased Innovative Software, makers of a Unix-based office system called SmartWare and WingZ, an innovative spreadsheet program for the Apple Macintosh. Wingz provided a highly graphical user interface, supported very large spreadsheets, and offered programming in a HyperCard-like language known as HyperScript. The original release proved very successful, becoming the #2 spreadsheet, behind Microsoft Excel, although many WingZ users found it to be a superior product. In 1990, WingZ ports started appearing for a number of other platforms, mostly Unix variants. However it suffered from a lack of development and marketing resources, possibly due to a general misunderstanding of the non-server software market. By the early 1990s WingZ had become uncompetitive, and Informix eventually sold it in 1995.
With the failure in office automation products, Informix refocused on the growing database server market. In 1994, as part of a collaboration with Sequent Computer Systems, Informix released its first Version 7.x release. This involved a major rework of the core engine of the product, supporting both horizontal and vertical parallelism, and based on a multi-threaded core well suited towards the symmetric multiprocessing systems that Sequent pioneered and that major vendors like Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard would eventually follow up on. The two forms of parallelism made the product capable of market-leading levels of scalability, both for OLTP and data warehousing.
Now known as Informix OnLine Dynamic Server (after briefing entertaining the name Obsidian), version 7 hit the market in 1994, just when SMP systems were becoming popular and Unix in general had started to become the server operating system of choice. In addition, version 7 consistently won performance benchmarks. As a result of its success, Informix vaulted to the #2 position in the database world by 1997, pushing Sybase out of that spot with surprising ease.
Building on the success of Version 7, Informix made the fateful decision to split its core database development investment into two efforts. One effort, which became the Version 8 product line, came also to be known as XPS, an abbreviation for eXtended Multi-Processing. This effort focused on enhancements in data warehousing and parallelism in a shared-nothing platform environment such as IBM's RS-6000/SP.
The second focus, which followed the 1995 purchase of Illustra, concentrated on object-relational database (O-R) technology. Illustra, written by ex-Postgres team members and led by database pioneer Michael Stonebraker, included various features that allowed it to return fully-formed objects directly from the database, a feature that can significantly reduce programming time in many projects. Illustra also included a feature known as DataBlades that allowed new data types and features to be included in the basic server as options. These included solutions to a number of thorny SQL problems, namely time series, spatial and multimedia data. Informix integrated Illustra's O-R mapping and DataBlades into the 7.x OnLine product, resulting in Informix Universal Server, or more generally, Version 9.
Both new versions, V8 and V9, appeared on the market in 1996, making Informix the first of the "big three" database companies (along with Oracle and Sybase) to offer built-in O-R support. Commentators paid particular attention to the DataBlades, which soon became very popular: dozens appearing within a year, ported to the new architecture after partnerships with Illustra. This left other vendors scrambling, with Oracle introducing a "grafted on" package for time-series support in 1997, and Sybase turning to a third party for an external package.
But ongoing failures in marketing and an unfortunate leadership in corporate misgovernance overshadowed Informix's technical successes. On April 1, 1997, Informix had to announce that revenues fall short of expectations by $100 million. In retrospect, the day before this incident may have marked the peak of Informix's success as a company. While it continued to advance its technology, the churn in management that followed the ouster of the CEO in 1997 meant the company never recovered the momentum that its success with Version 7.x established.
Starting in the year 2000, the major events in Informix's history no longer centered on its technical innovations. That year, in March, Informix acquired Ardent Software, a company that had a history of mergers and acquisitions of its own. That acquisition added multi-dimensional engines UniVerse and UniData (known collectively as U2) to its already-numerous list of database engines at the time, which included not only the Informix heritage products, but a datawarehouse-oriented SQL engine from Red Brick and the 100% Java version of SQL, Cloudscape (which came to be bundled with the reference implementation of J2EE).
By July the former CEO of Ardent became the CEO of Informix, and soon re-organized Informix to make it more attractive as a acquisition target. The major step taken was to separate out all of the database engine technologies from the applications and tools.
In 2001 IBM took advantage of this reorganization, and bought from Informix the database technology, the Informix brand itself, and the over 100,000-customer base associated with these. The application and tool leftovers remained under the name Ascential Software.
In November 2002, Phillip White, the former CEO of Informix ousted in 1997, was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with eight counts of securities, wire and mail fraud. In a plea bargain thirteen months later, he pleaded guilty to a single count of filing a false registration statement with the S.E.C. Sentencing is scheduled for March 2004; the plea included an agreement that prison time could be up to 12 months, though sentencing guidelines could have led to imprisonment for up to five years.
Another Informix officer, the company's Vice-President in charge of European operations Walter Königseder, was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier but as a citizen and resident of Munich, Germany, the United States has been unable to secure his extradition.
Prior to its purchase, Informix had several interesting products that it developed or acquired, including: