Informix acquires Illustra for complex data management

Informix Corp. accelerated its development of database software for managing complex data with the acquisition late last month of Illustra Information Technologies Inc.

Informix plans to build a Universal Data Engine by integrating its Dynamic Scalable Architecture with Illustra's object-oriented database software and tools. The database engine, which could be completed by the end of the year, will handle Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), imagery, 3-D graphics, multimedia, spatial and other complex data types.

Informix predicted the combined technologies will find a federal role in such fields as document management.

Illustra's technology already is in use in the intelligence community.

"This really has a chance to break through problems [with data management] that have been problems forever," said Dave Nahmias, federal product marketing manager for Informix.

Informix already had planned to add support for more complex data in future releases of its OnLine Dynamic Server, much as Oracle Corp. is doing with its database technology. The Informix architecture was purposefully designed to allow such extensions. Now Informix has accelerated its schedule "by at least a year," Nahmias said.

Besides extending the Informix architecture, the database engine will bring parallel support to Illustra's uniprocessor-based technology, he said.

In the Illustra transaction, about 12.9 million shares of Informix common stock will be issued to acquire all outstanding shares of Illustra, Informix said. Observers put the cost of the transaction at about $400 million.

Illustra, a 3 1/2-year-old company based in Oakland, Calif., focuses on a number of areas, including the Internet and World Wide Web, financial services, multimedia asset management and earth sciences. It offers 10 products, called DataBlades, dealing with specific data types. However, its Illustra Server database is designed to allow users to define their own data types.

Illustra's technology can be used for a number of different applications, including Web servers, on-line analytic processing, transaction processing and decision support, analysts said.

"It's not just narrowly focused products," said Dan Kusnetzky, director of advanced applications and operating systems at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass. "This is going to enhance Informix's capabilities up and down, and they will be able to add support for different data types as needed."

Illustra already has made in-roads into the federal intelligence community in the earth sciences areas, including support for geopositioning and satellite information, said Bruce Golden, vice president of marketing for North America at Illustra.

Single-Column Storage

For example, Illustra's technology supports the otherwise difficult task of time series analysis. Typically this might involve taking a satellite photograph of the same space over a period of time for future comparison. In the Illustra Server, such images can be stored in a single column, with each item easily accessible. "That kind of expression is almost impossible in a standard relational database but very easy in ours," Golden said.

"Informix has a good, secure database version, which will help the intelligence community," Kusnetzky said. "The two of them together bring some potential for some very interesting applications."

For Informix, the immediate focus commercially will be support for Internet-based data and applications, observers said. However, Informix Federal plans to capitalize on a number of areas, including document management.

Such agencies as the Federal Aviation Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office are looking for better ways to deal with documents or multiple-document images, Nahmias said. "In the less glamorous area of document management, I think that's where it starts," he said.

Despite its present niche role, vendors and industry observers expect the market for this technology to grow significantly in the coming years.

"There is a need for specialized data types," said Brian Murphy, senior analyst at the Yankee Group. In particular, as Internet-based applications get larger and larger, "being able to store HTML will be a plus," Murphy said.

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