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Informix to scuttle flagship

The No. 2 database vendor is making sure users move to its new Universal Server by getting rid of another alternative.

In its eagerness to move users to its next-generation product line, Informix Software (IFMX) plans to discontinue later this year what has long been its flagship database.

Informix wants to migrate users of its Online Dynamic Server (ODS) database--the calling card that has introduced the company to most of its Fortune 500 customers--to its Universal Server database just launched in December. To make sure that happens, the company will scuttle ODS later this year, according to Malcolm Colton, director of database marketing at Informix.

While most companies adopt some kind of carrot-and-stick approach to encourage users to move on to the latest technologies, Informix's decision to discontinue ODS so quickly is particularly aggressive.

The company has christened Universal Server as its new flagship. The product is a result of the company's $400 million acquisition of Illustra Software last year and is designed to compete with forthcoming products from Oracle and Sybase.

Universal Server is a part of a new breed of corporate databases that store multimedia data types such as video and audio, Web data including entire Web pages, as well as the relational data for which traditional databases were designed.

Informix is locked in a tooth-and-nail battle for control of corporate databases. Oracle plans to launch its own long-awaited object relational database, Oracle 8, in June. Sybase, meanwhile, will debut its multimedia version of its SQL Server database at its user meeting next month.

Informix has made significant market share strides in the past two years, progressing from a distant No. 3 ranking in the database market to second place. But a widespread transition to a whole new kind of corporate database leaves the field open again. Informix is anxious to use this opportunity to consolidate its position or even leapfrog Oracle. CEO Phil White said at the launch of Universal Server in December that Informix might be able to surpass Oracle in database sales in two to three years.

But that all depends on customer acceptance of Universal Server, which is why Informix is being so eager to move its users to the new database.

Informix's version of this genre of database can be customized through optional components called Data Blades. Corporate users and other software developers can also design their own Data Blades to create an application designed to store a particular data type.

ODS is a standard relational database system based on older technology.

Colton said he "expects that later this year customers will be able to cut over to Universal Server from Online. Universal Server does everything ODS does, and it's faster," he said.

"There's probably no reason [to ship ODS] after the third quarter, when we can demonstrate that Universal Server is faster than ODS," he added.

Informix will offer ODS customers who are storing only alphanumeric data like names and addresses a free upgrade to Universal Server at that time, said Colton. ODS customers who want to store multimedia--or what Informix calls "extensible" data--in Universal Server will have to purchase a new license.

Informix sells a low-end version of the database, called Online Workgroup Server, and a high-end parallel processing database called Online Extended Parallel Server (XPS).

The company's long-term plan calls for a Universal Server-only lineup. In the future, possibly in 1998, according to Colton, the company will discontinue both the Workgroup database and XPS, and will optimize Universal Server to run across the full gamut of hardware and operating systems, from desktops to massively parallel systems.