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Informix tries to silence Oracle

Informix Software's CEO says the launch of its Universal Server database software should be a turning point for the company, allowing it to take market share from its biggest competitor, Oracle.

Informix Software (IFMX) CEO Philip White says today's official launch of its Universal Server database software should be a turning point for the company, allowing it to accelerate sales growth by taking market share from its biggest competitor, Oracle (ORCL).

"This is a chance to take market share from Oracle and, yes, a chance to become the biggest database company," White said in a published interview.

White said Informix might be able to surpass Oracle in database sales in two to three years. Today, Informix's database sales, estimated by analysts at $558 million for 1996, are about one-third of Oracle's $1.57 billion database server sales reported for its 1996 fiscal year.

White also said the Universal Server launch vindicates Informix's acquisition of Illustra last year because Illustra's multimedia data managing technology is the core of the Universal Server.

"People were skeptical when I paid $400 million for Illustra, saying we can't merge 900 lines of code. We said we'd ship in nine months. We did on September 30 in beta; now we're launching it, available on Sun Solaris and Silicon Graphics" computers, White added.

Informix's Universal Server is a database management software that can handle video, sound, and images as well as the text and numbers handled in traditional database management software known as relational databases.

Oracle has also been working on a database to handle video, sound, and images and promises to deliver these features in its Oracle 8 server due by summer 1997.

IBM already has similar multimedia database software in the market with its DB2 Common Server. But White dismisses IBM as a competitor. "They will never be successful running their database on [anything] other than IBM platforms," he said.

The perceived market for these new databases, companies say, is the growing use of the Web and of voice mail. Databases, which can sort through many files in huge companywide databases and bring up answers to queries, can now include the graphical material in Web pages or voice messages.

White said one nascent market is companies that want to use internal databases mixed with Web pages for electronic commerce.

But Informix is assuming that companies will want to pay $1,000 more per user for the Universal Server than they pay for its traditional database server, which is $1,500 per user.

Analyst Marshall Senk of Robertson, Stephens & Company said that it "is very early but I do think the [universal database] market is going to emerge." He added that the "key benefit" that Universal Server brings to Informix for the next year is a higher profile and access to potential customers they otherwise wouldn't have been able to attract.

But as for White's hopeful forecast that Informix might surpass Oracle in database sales in two or three years, Senk called that "pretty wildly ambitious."

Oracle's own response to Informix's Universal Server has been to criticize its technology, a concept called Data Blades, in which third-party multimedia applications developers can write modules that can be plugged into the Universal Server. Oracle executives at a recent Oracle user conference criticized it as opening the database to outside corruption.

But Senk said it is too early to tell which company's technology is better.

Both companies are hard at work recruiting independent software makers to build components for their architectures. Informix today announced that 29 companies have signed up to develop Data Blades. The list includes NEC, Open Market, and Verity. The company said 50 more developers are to sign up to build Blades.

Oracle will tomorrow announce the Cartridge Solutions Network, an adjunct program to its Oracle Development Program subscription service, aimed at promoting its Data Cartridge technology.

A list of 50 participants supporting Oracle will include Kodak, Virage, and other companies, said Mark Jarvis, Oracle's vice president of server marketing.

Reuters contributed to this report.