N>obody knows data like Janet Perna. Over the last few years, Perna, general manager, data management, IBM software solutions, has been IBM's point person in this crucial arena. ADT Editor Mike Bucken and Managing Editor Jack Vaughan talked with Perna recently about XML, intelligent mining, universal databases and a few other items that are shaking up this slightly mystifying technology segment.

How do you rate the status of the Universal Database?

If you look at what we've done with the Universal Database, we've extended relational technology to support other data types, other kinds of functions, and to provide an extensible relational database. That's one of the things we've done with it. We've [also] provided support for data that's text or image or audio or video, or you could think up things like XML. That's one aspect of the Universal Database.

But there are other aspects of Universal Database that have to do with scalability -- being able to scale from small systems to very large systems, including massively parallel systems. Universal in terms of the types of applications -- supporting those online transaction processing kind of applications -- as well as business intelligence, which requires complex query and analytic capability. Things like universal access -- access to the database from the Web, and then reliability and manageability of the environment.

When we talk about the Universal Database, it's not something that's different than relational, it's an extension of relational technology. A growing number [of customers] are using it as a base for a business intelligence solution, warehousing platform or data mart platform. And there are others who are using it as a base for their e-business applications, like electronic commerce. When you start thinking about a base for e-commerce, you're thinking about application requirements that require very high reliability, availability, scalability and performance, things that IBM databases are hallmarked for.

Do people still buy it strictly as a relational database?

I think most people have continued to use it to manage structured data if you will --character type of data, alphanumerical data, that kind of data. There are a growing number of customers who are using it for things like managing text. If you look at Sapien Health Network, for example, they've got a Web site that enables visitors to their Web site to do text searches and to find information on different diseases. And they're using the Universal Database with a text-extender capability to provide that.

Is IBM holding up its end in the meta data field?

Meta data is a topic that's been discussed in the industry for a number of years. And getting a standard meta data format. From a customer point of view, it's something that would clearly benefit customers as they try to integrate data from various vendors and applications. In that vein, IBM has taken a leadership position, along with a couple of other companies within the standards community, to work on some meta data issues using XML as a common meta data exchange format. We have a lot of work going on in the meta data area. I think that at least most of the vendors we are working with see the potential of XML as a way to do common data interchange.

Do you have a gauge on IBM's thinking on repositories?

As you probably know, IBM does have an application development repository in Team Connection. And again, what our approach is there is really to extend that and to be the meta data repository for data, as well as application development.

Lotus and IBM had quite different data strategies. How is the integration going?

Well, I think we've achieved quite a bit with Lotus in terms of data integration. We've opened up DB2 data to Notes applications, so if you're writing an application using the Notes APIs, you can access DB2 data. You can integrate that data and extend Notes applications with relational. We also have a capability to extract data from DB2 and populate Notes databases with DB2 data. If you think about it, it's a marriage of structured and unstructured data providing application developers with the ability to integrate through the same API relational data with the Notes data. And that work has been completed, by the way. We shipped DB2 for Domino last year, that enables our capability. We're working with a number of Notes application development vendors; we want to extend their Notes applications with relational capability.

It seems like search technology is almost overshadowing database technology these days.

There are a number of technologies that we're working on and Search is one of them. We shipped a product called Intelligent Miner for Text that provides advanced search, text-search and text-mining capability, as well as a Web-crawling capability. We've taken the search technology from there and Lotus has incorporated the search technology -- the advanced search technology -- into Domino. It's an instance where we're applying technology that initially came out of IBM research to now incorporate it into two different products -- one from Lotus and one, the Intelligent Miner, from IBM. By the way, we have a lot of experience in providing scalable, high-performing relational databases and we're applying a lot of the technology and experience that we've gained through the years in DB2. We're applying that to Notes to be able to scale the Notes environment.

Some RDB vendor growth is slowing. Does the world have enough relational databases?

We've had a tremendous first half. Well, actually, the first three quarters have been tremendous for us, but let me recap the first half of this year. IMS and DB2 on the mainframe each grew 14% in the first half of the year, year-to-year. That is quite a bit faster than our competitors. DB2 on the distributed platforms, Unix, NT and LS2, grew 68% year-to-year in the first half. So we're seeing good growth there now, whereas our competition is seeing a lot less growth.

What we're also seeing is -- and this gets back to the question about what are people using relational databases for -- that a lot of this growth is coming from business intelligence kinds of applications. Platforms for data warehousing, data marts, complex decision support types of processing, all of these solutions require relational databases. And they require a very strong query optimizer. As you scale up on them, they require a parallelism in the query optimizer. This part of the market for relational databases is projected to grow around 30% between now and the year 2002. And so [people are] doing more and more of that type of application. And we're seeing a lot of growth in that area.

Why DB2?

If you look at the history, Oracle and Informix grew very, very quickly as customers began to implement packaged solutions -- ERP-type applications on Unix. The whole client/server movement provided Oracle, Informix and Sybase, to some degree, with a big growth potential over the last seven years. IBM didn't have a product on the Unix platform until the end of 1994. We missed a lot of the growth that occurred in the packaged applications space for online transaction processing during that period.

Since 1994, we've had competitive DB2 products on Unix platforms. We shipped on NT in 1995, and we've had parallel query capability and very scalable parallel query capability with DB2 cross-platform since 1995 as this market's taken off. We're seeing quite a bit of growth coming from the uptake in that market and the fact that we do have a very competitive product available on those platforms. By the way, a lot of DB2 growth on the 390 is also coming from these types of applications for business intelligence.

Why would the Informix Universal Server fail so badly?

I don't know. They had good parallel technology. Informix does have good parallel technology. I don't know. I don't think it was necessarily a technology issue.

How much business are you seeing on non-IBM platforms?

We're seeing growth on the platforms. Am I satisfied? I'm probably never going to be satisfied. As I said, we're seeing good growth on the Sun platforms. We're seeing good growth there again for business intelligence, the same with the RS/6000. We're providing customers with platform options to deploy their database solutions.

In fact, in our developer's kit for DB2 we package VisualAge for Java; VisualAge really is the application development portion of DB2. We supported Java, stored procedures and JDBC very early on with DB2 -- almost two years ago. A key part of our application development strategy, as you know, is Java support. And it's very important that we have VisualAge Java support that works well with DB2 as the underlying database.

What is your position on SQL 3?

We're supporting elements of SQL 3 already, so if you look at what we've done in the object relational area, a lot of those extensions are extensions to relational that are in SQL 3. We've also written many of the papers that have gone to define the SQL 3 standard. We have implemented parts of SQL 3 as early as Version 2 of DB2 -- which was our 1995 product -- and we continue to take elements of SQL 3 and implement them.

Particular things, like the object relational support, are important as we link together our application development strategy with our database strategy because the object relational support in relational databases enables us to do things like model Corba objects in relational. That gets us support in enterprise JavaBeans. It's a close melding of our application development strategy with database.

Is there any growing competition from object databases?

I still see them in the niche that they're in. In fact, they don't appear to be growing as much as they were even five years ago.

What do you attribute this to?

I think the relational database players are all moving to extend relational with objects. And you kind of look at how you get something to go mainstream, and the applications aren't there for the object relational databases. The application vendors are supporting the relational database spenders, and to the degree that we can provide object support in relational databases, it extends their application investment in relational. It enables them to use object-oriented programming tools. I don't see that changing in the near term.

I think one of the key points about what people are using relational databases or the DB2 Universal Database for, [is that] it's the same stuff. It's online transaction processing. There's more growth in business intelligence now, which is driving a lot of our growth for those new application types. And, of course, the Web is going to drive additional growth, particularly as relational databases begin to manage rich content. So text, video, audio, XML, that kind of data. And again, what we're doing with the DB2 Universal Database is extending it to provide that capability. One of the other things that we're doing, and that we'll be shipping before the end of this year, is our Data Links technology that enables you to link an external file to the relational database and provide referential integrity.

How is database revenue stacking up?

IDC has published some revenue numbers as has Dataquest, which are roughly accurate. If you look at the whole DB2 family of products it's over a billion dollars. And if you look at market share according to Dataquest, we're neck and neck with Oracle at a little over 27% market share. If you look at Sybase and Informix, they're less than 5%.