Java, Jasmine Jolt object DBs to new standing

Technology gurus who once proclaimed that object-oriented (OO) database technology would replace relational systems through the 1990s have long been proven wrong. Corporate I/S developers have yet to find a compelling reason to turn to OO database management system (DBMS) technology en masse. Researchers peg the market for object databases at around $200 million vs. an overall DBMS market that is approaching $10 billion.

Relational databases -- along with object extensions built in by most major suppliers -- remain the staple technology of the corporate development world. And many expert observers say it will remain the staple database technology of corporate I/S organizations for many years to come.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope that the demand for object database technology could start to take off in the next few years. As I/S organizations seek to build multimedia and Internet applications, utilize the new extensible markup language (XML) technology and quickly expand use of the Java programming language, the need for object database technology is becoming clearer. Another key factor is the strong effort by software giant Computer Associates (CA) International Inc., Islandia, N.Y., to position its new Jasmine object-oriented database for traditional I/S development

Several companies that were formed to build and sell OODBMS systems a decade or so ago continue to plod along by selling databases that build complex applications for specific industries like telecommunications
or for selected cross-industry multimedia software. However, due to a lack of growth in the markets needing object database technology through the early 1990s, these suppliers were forced to constantly shift strategies in order to take advantage of emerging areas that might require the complexities of an object database. Some firms have even exited the database business entirely in an effort to escape competition from top relational DBMS suppliers. These firms have built development tools, middleware, Java application servers and/or other systems on top of the object technology.

Observers note that the lack of substantial success among the early OODBMS vendors led to limited investment in the technology, investments that could have been used to add features required by I/S development teams. Meanwhile, top relational database vendors have spent huge sums of money to add object technology to relational systems. These vendors are now claiming that the hybrid systems eliminate much of the need for pure object-oriented databases.

"Whenever an object-oriented feature becomes sufficiently important among enterprises, the major database company will add them to the object-relational systems," said Phil Sutherland, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group, a Boston-based consulting firm.

"Some people will say that the object-relational systems are the best of both worlds," added Bradlee Chang, director of strategy at Chrystal Software, the San Diego maker of a component-based document management system based on the ObjectStore database of Object Design Inc., Burlington, Mass. "Someday, they may get there, but not yet."

Computer Associates' entry into the object database market fray late last year is forcing some large I/S organizations to take notice. CA has a dominant position in terms of sales of systems and application management systems to large organizations. It also boasts a significant installed base of relational and non-relational database systems, including Ingres, IDMS and Datacom/DB. Earlier in the decade, CA began work on adding object capabilities to the Ingres relational database, but quickly abandoned that effort to concentrate on building the Jasmine object-oriented system. Experts say that CA's efforts alone can increase the potential of the object-oriented database market and the survival chances of smaller OODBMS suppliers.

Along with Computer Associates, the list of object database suppliers includes current market leader Object Design; Versant Object Technologies Corp., Fremont, Calif.; Objectivity Inc., Mountain View, Calif.; Poet Software Corp., San Mateo, Calif.; and Ardent Software Inc., Westborough, Mass. Early OODBMS developers Gemstone Systems Inc., Beaverton, Ore., and Ontos Inc. (previously known as Ontologic Inc.), Lowell, Mass., have refocused product strategies to become middleware, and Java development system and application server suppliers. Meanwhile, top relational database suppliers, such as Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., IBM and Informix Software Inc., Menlo Park, Calif., are adding object-oriented technologies to their primary offerings.

"Jasmine probably has helped" increase the visibility of OODBMS technology, said Heath Thompson, president of ThoughtMill Inc., an Atlanta consulting firm and
reseller of Object Design's ObjectStore OODBMS. "Having CA's backing sort of legitimizes the space."

Added Mike Hogan, vice president of business development at Poet Software, "It's our opinion that CA's entry into the market will help. The press and analysts are now paying closer attention to the object database market."

Java, XML create markets

The latest set of emerging technologies, especially Java and XML, are clearly creating new and potentially significant markets for object database suppliers. "There are plenty of applications that can take advantage of object databases, especially with object and component
development," said Steve McClure, an analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC), a Framingham, Mass., research firm. "Web developers have so many things to manage -- code and content" -- that an object database is preferable to a relational system. "The popularity of Java, and the desire to keep a pure object model, is driving a lot of people to an object database," added Thompson of ThoughtMill.

In addition, most makers of application development tools are adding object and component development capabilities that can utilize the capabilities of an object database easily. At the same time, some smaller vendors expect to take advantage of the marketing muscle of CA, which began shipping the Jasmine object-oriented database last December. Those shipments started more than a year after CA began loudly touting the technology. At this spring's CA World user group conference in New Orleans, Computer Associates' Chairman and CEO Charles Wang, and President and COO Sanjay Kumar both spoke at length on the capabilities and plans for Jasmine during keynote speeches in front of 25,000-plus attendees.

When the Ohio Solution Center of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in Moraine, Ohio, was charged with building a system that its consultants could use for internal and external communications, the I/S organization turned to Jasmine. The decision to make the system Internet-based was easy because "our multiple LANs aren't even connected," said David Arndt, a systems engineer in the center's I/S unit. Thus, "management wanted us to build a Web site for communicating."

Because of the Internet development, and the site's requirement for multimedia capabilities, the unit decided to use an object database for the project, said Angelo Guevara, also a systems engineer in the I/S organization. "A relational database would have required a lot of joins," he said. He added that the project could have used a relational database, but that such a decision "was not logical."

CA's stability and the company's willingness to spend money to push the offering were key reasons for its selection by EDS, said Arndt. "We did look at databases from Versant and others, but we knew that CA is a multibillion-dollar company and is going to be around for a while. So, we did a beta test and bought it."

InfoPike Inc., a consulting firm in Research Triangle Park, N.C., chose Jasmine to be the key piece of a High Performance Modeling System built for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. "We needed levels of abstraction and class hierarchies that you can only do with an object database," said InfoPike President Ramesh Reddi. The project began with the Ontos object database, but that system was replaced with Jasmine as it became available, Reddi said.

"With CA, we have the backing of a worldwide company," said Reddi. "You don't know which of the other companies will be around for long." Yet he is convinced that the OODBMS market will survive and thrive. "If CA is interested in the market, they must believe it will grow to more than $1 billion," Reddi said.

Computer Associates' entry into the market did convince InfoPike officials to seriously study building commercial Jasmine-based commercial applications. The company is now looking at building real-estate, virtual reality and online video applications, said Reddi. Though Jasmine boosts the rivalry in the OODBMS market, competitors hope that CA's might can change the perception that object databases are a niche market for specialized applications.

Allied Express, a courier and package delivery service based in Sydney, Australia, has built a key commercial application on top of Jasmine, said MIS Manager Hernani Inacio. Allied, which boasts the largest fleet of trucks in Australia with more than 500 vehicles, built a sophisticated distributed application that can determine the most appropriate vehicle for each assignment based on size, location and other criteria. "We decided on an object database to take advantage of the Internet and to keep real-time track of the trucks," Inacio said. The company chose Jasmine for its links to Ingres and its support of the OpenRoad development tools that Allied has used for several years.

"Jasmine has increased the visibility of object databases," said Patrick O'Brien, director of Java product development at Object Design. "We don't see [CA] as a serious competitor yet, but an endorsement from the company that is the second or third largest in software revenue is certainly helpful to the industry. It's also helpful that Oracle, Informix-Illustra and Sybase are embracing object technology."

"Jasmine has a very good chance of being successful," added Sutherland of Aberdeen Group. "But Jasmine could double the size of the [OODBMS] market and it will still be a small market."

CA's shift to OODBMS

Computer Associates, best known for its systems man-
agement offerings, such as Unicenter The Next Generation (TNG), first planned to follow the path of top relational database vendors by adding object-oriented capabilities to its Ingres RDBMS. But after about six months' work on that project, CA abandoned the object-relational effort to concentrate on the ODB II object database technology, which it licensed from Fujitsu Ltd., Tokyo. "The experts said you had to go object-relational," said CA's Kumar. "Jasmine broke the rule that a pure object-oriented database can't be successful."

Since then, CA has signed up numerous makers of development tools (closing in on 50 suppliers at last count) that have agreed to add support for Jasmine. These suppliers range from Bluestone Software Inc., Mt. Laurel, N.J., to Symantec Corp., Cupertino, Calif. CA has also licensed more technology from Fujitsu that is the foundation for its own Jasmine Studio toolset (formerly known as the Jasmine Application Development Environment or Jade).

Yogesh Gupta, CA's senior vice president of product strategy, predicts that by year-end 1998, Jasmine will be the top-selling object database. Object Design is the current market leader, with 1997 sales approaching $50 million. But, noted Gupta, "We've sent out 29,000 Jasmine Developer CD-ROMs" during 1998. CA will gain a key advantage by the end of the decade, added Donald LeClair, vice president of CA's Technology Integration Group, because Jasmine has been pegged to be the de facto repository for the next generation of the hot-selling Unicenter software, dubbed Unicenter The Next Dimension (TND).

With its mainstream I/S customer base, CA positions Jasmine as a standalone DBMS and as an extension to existing technology. On one hand, Gupta said, CA is marketing the technology for applications that do not currently use a database. "Eighty-five percent of the data out there today is not in any database," he said. At its user conference, CA brought out the Harmony infrastructure that incorporates three key technologies: the Opal GUI development system, the Ingres II relational DBMS and Jasmine. The system aims to allow users of existing technologies to build new systems on top of installed technologies.

Some observers remain skeptical that object-oriented databases will ever match the success of the relational suppliers over the last 10 to 15 years. "I'd love to see object databases succeed," said Mitch Kramer, senior analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group, a Boston consulting firm. "In theory, there are many more things that are more applicable to an object database. But in reality, it's still viewed as new and different technology. Technologically, Jasmine is a wonderful database, but I don't see it [displacing relational systems]."

However, vendors of relational systems insist that the object extensions will supply enough object capabilities for most applications.

Choosing a pure object database or an object-relational system "depends on what kind of applications you want to build," said Dan Fishman, chief architect and chief technical officer at Informix. "For pure object-oriented applications, an object-oriented database is best. For these [applications], you need persistence support; you [therefore] want very rich structures and more navigation capabilities. But if you want to extend existing applications, the object-relational database will do."

Fishman said that he expects most high-end applications written by I/S development organizations to utilize the
object-relational model. "Object-relational applications can support large numbers of users for data processing and e-commerce systems," he said. "Object databases are limited in scalability and in their support of transaction-oriented applications."

Meanwhile, some seasoned object database makers are hopeful that their time has come, while others are shifting strategies in order to utilize object technologies in newer, different products.

"We haven't seen adoption by mainstream users yet," concedes Craig Russell, director of product architecture at Versant. "We are still in the early stages of the object database market. But it will come. Java will be a bigger factor than anything else. Java is just the vehicle for the common person, for the developers in I/T shops, to use objects. C++ is just too hard. Java allows you to get object-oriented experience without the risk of experiencing the pain of C++ development."

Object Design expects corporate I/S organizations to quickly utilize the Java language in large development projects, creating a widespread need for its object database technology. "There's a big advantage for Java developers that use an object database rather than a SQL database," said the firm's O'Brien. "If you are using a relational database to write object applications, you have to write a lot of code -- an average of 35% to 45% of the code -- to map the object model.

"Already, we have seen a large number of Internet and e-commerce applications written in Java and ObjectStore," he continued. Object Design positions its ObjectStore Persistent Storage Engine (PSE) software against low-end offerings, such as Oracle Lite, SQL Anywhere from Sybase Inc., Emeryville, Calif., and Cloudscape, a SQL database written in Java by startup Cloudscape Inc., Oakland, Calif.

Gemstone Systems, meanwhile, wants to exploit the potential of Java -- but has abandoned the object database space to do it. "The market for object databases wasn't there [when Gemstone changed strategies in June 1997], and as far as we can see, it still isn't there," said Steve Seminario, director of product marketing at Gemstone. "Our focus is now on the Java space." Gemstone sells Gemstone/J, a Java/Corba application server.

"A few years ago the object-oriented database business was forecast to be a $100 million business that would quickly grow to be a $1 billion [business]," said Ken Lord, marketing director at Ontos. "Today, it's still a $100 million business. There are some areas where an object database will be useful, but we decided to go in a new direction."

Robert Huebner, vice president of engineering at Ontos, agreed that I/S organizations are increasingly turning to "an object presentation of data in the application development organization. What we have seen is a trend toward I/T building distributed applications in a three-tier environment rather than a two-tier environment. Some people are saying that object-oriented databases will address the performance requirements and the need to access corporate data."

However, added Huebner, who was an I/S executive at several corporations, including Boston-based Fidelity Investments before joining Ontos last year, "I don't see people replacing Oracle databases."

Nonetheless, object database technology can and likely will become a key part of the development strategies of I/S organizations. But the source of that technology remains a question.