Database developer Informix has had little trouble getting its competition to take notice of its newest product, the Informix-Universal Server.
The Menlo Park, Calif., company is touting its newest product as unequaled in its ability to store and dynamically retrieve any kind of information, including video, audio, images, World Wide Web pages and maps.
This is possible with technology known as DataBlades, plug-in software modules or extensions that allow the server to understand and manipulate new types of data.
The product is a combination of the object-relational Illustra Server database and the Informix-OnLine Dynamic Server. It competes in the database market with Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp. and Sybase Inc., Emeryville, Calif.
Unveiling the product Dec. 3, Informix announced that 29 DataBlade modules were now available and another 50 would be on the market in early 1997. The portfolio of the 25 current DataBlade modules falls into five categories: Data Warehousing/Financial, Digital Media, Mapping and Spatial, Text/Document Management and Web/Electronic Commerce.
Dave Nahmias, federal product marketing manager for Informix, sees the DataBlade as a major advance in technology, one that can help the IS staff manage and control the new environment evolving through the widespread use and implementation of the Internet and client/server technology.
"In the old days you waited for something to come along to help you manage the new data forms. The heart of the idea of the DataBlade is that you can start working immediately with the new data types. To draw an analogy, if the Informix-Universal Server is the receiver in a stereo system, then the DataBlade is one of the major components," says Nahmias.
One company that's developed a DataBlade to work with the server is ECOlogic Corp., Washington, a multimedia systems integration and software engineering company. Its Visualization module allows users to apply high-performance computer graphic, imaging and mapping techniques to create and manipulate visuals of numerical, spatial and image data stored in the database.
According to Michael Keeler, president and CEO of ECOlogic, the module provides the Earth System Science Community, funded by NASA, with an Earth System Visualizer. "Students across the country can investigate the Earth as a system by using scientific data, tools, imagery and techniques stored on the Universal Server together with the Visualization DataBlade. We linked the data warehouse to the Internet to give students easy access to the information," says Keeler.
"The DataBlade technology gives an added degree of performance. For our purposes, the problem with middleware is that you are designing software to connect software that was not intended to work together. With the DataBlade approach, you have a platform already designed to work together with it. The exciting part is that all the Blades interoperate with one another," he said.
For example, the Universal Server can control where execution occurs. If the network is not busy, but the database is, the server can control where the execution will happen.
"That's good control for an engineer. It's the only architecture of its kind out there like it. The key for me is that there is one database engine. Whenever you plug in a DataBlade, you plug into an intelligent engine. And the server becomes more intelligent as you plug more DataBlades in," says Keeler.
By contrast, the Oracle approach is not to present a solution in terms of servers, databases and DataBlades, but to point the customer toward its so-called Network Computing Architecture, an open, multi-tier architecture with extensibility at each tier.