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OODB players Versant, Poet merge; shakeout in store

Long-time object-oriented database (OODB) players Versant and Poet Software plan to merge. The suppliers signed a definitive agreement to combine last month, indicating at the time that the new company would operate under the Versant banner. Shareholders of Hamburg, Germany-based Poet could gain as much as $26 million in the stock-based transaction.

Both Versant and Poet have repositioned their offerings since the brief early-1990s heyday of object-oriented databases. The methods of pure object architectures found limited use in businesses apps, it seems, while mainstream relational DB vendors managed to co-opt enough object capabilities to continue to thrive. Yet OODBs continue to be used in specialized application areas.

After some missteps, Poet has focused on the area of B2B catalog development, while Versant has positioned its object stores for performance-intensive applications that are sometimes part of so-called real-time enterprise applications.

Since both firms have their own core databases, some shakeout may be in store. "It is clear there is overlap," said IDC analyst Carl Olofson. "They will have to figure out what to do with that. As Versant is the surviving company, it may be the OODB for large-scale apps." Olofson added that he thinks Versant can benefit from the strong European presence of Poet.

The merged companies now hold a significant share of the OODB market. Nick Orden, Versant's president and CEO, agreed with estimates of a 40% share there. Combined product lines are targeted at specialized data management markets and the growing real-time enterprise market, said Orden. He projected the new company's financial run rate at $30-million-plus per year.

Versant now has a combination of early-stage growth products and established products, said Orden. "We have the same technology core architected differently. Both companies have targeted different market segments. Now we gain a broader suite of products that can be taken to a broader market. We can optimize engineering functions and customer service, and bring more critical mass to bear," he said.

Consolidation in the OODB field was long discussed, and has happened in fits. "In the object-oriented database market there was an expectation that they were going to be the way people stored data in the future," said IDC's Olofson. "That could never be true for several reasons.

"In object-oriented approaches, you basically have to model the whole behavior of the application as one thing. If you change the app, you have to change the DB even if the changes are small," he continued. "Businesses change over time. And the requirements for what businesses want computers to do change. With the object model, you have to re-analyze and it can mean substantial changes."

The object approach is "okay if things don't change that much -- especially if the problems are well bounded and not that complex," he said.

With this as a backdrop "[OODB] vendors have been looking for other ways to use their technology," noted Olofson. In the case of Versant and Poet, "both companies are building on an OODB. It's the foundation for what they have been doing," he added. "But they have been 'taking slightly different directions.'

"Poet saw it as perfect engine for storing XML, to create XML-driven online documentation," he added. That initial plan "didn't work out so well, but they have been able to reuse it for B2B" said Olofson.

Meanwhile Versant has been looking to make app servers run faster using OODBs as caches for performance enhancements, he explained.

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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