Like it did everything else, the Internet turned the database business on its head in 1996.
The Net has taken a hugely profitable but staid business accustomed to 18-month product cycles and turned it into a virtual assembly line for cutting-edge technology. The vendors themselves had to change, too, to cope with Web time: faster product cycles, more open beta testing, and development of smaller, more targeted applications. All of this produced some serious changes in the database and application development tool market, but the end results--the applications they create--won't really materialize until 1997.
The big themes in 1996 were universal data support, live data on HTML pages, and support for transactions in Web-based applications. Unlike some previous years in the database industry, these themes not only dominated the marketing rhetoric; the vendors actually delivered on much of it.
All of the major players--Oracle, Sybase, Informix, IBM and Microsoft--jumped onto the "universal database" bandwagon. Each vendor introduced, or said it would introduce, a plan for their database servers to store and retrieve multimedia data such as sound or video files that are commonly included in Web applications.
Oracle and Microsoft also kicked off an industrywide debate on how best to make Web pages livelier and more responsive, in other words, more like client-server applications. Each introduced technology--Oracle's Network Computer Architecture and data cartridges and Microsoft's Advanced Data Connector--that circumvent the static nature of normal HTML pages by embedding live data that updates automatically. Analysts expect Sybase, IBM, and Informix to launch similar technology in the coming year.
Microsoft, Oracle, and Sybase all addressed the needs of e-commerce sites by delivering transactional servers that combine the function of age-old transaction processing monitors with newfangled forms like ActiveX and Java applets. These servers process transactions or requests from client sites to a Web server to make sure that data is never corrupted or lost in transit.
All three trends lead toward Web applications that rely on databases to deliver constantly up-to-date and multimedia-rich content. In other words, all three are attempts to prove that the database is still the center of the computing world, even if the browser is the new frontier.
Predictions for 1997
"Universal database wars will come to the fore in 1997. It will be interesting to see how vendors compete with Informix, which has a 9- to 18-month lead on everyone." --Evan Bauer, Giga Information Group
"1996 was the year of the Web site. In 1997, we will see the realization of a new type of application?Internet applications?and a new way of developing them." --Stan Dolberg, The Forrester Group
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