Interview: Informix CEO Phil White

Interview: Informix CEO Phil White

For the past seven years, Informix Software has held a respectable third place in the relational database market behind Oracle and Sybase. But recently Sybase has stumbled, and Informix has edged into the No. 2 position. Late last year Informix paid a premium for Illustra Information Technologies in order to acquire an object-relational database. IDG reporter Mark Leon talked with Informix CEO Phil White about his company's plans for this technology on the Internet and in data warehousesIDG: How do you explain the momentum Informix has picked up recently?

PW: Everything that's happening in the industry is driving databases, data warehouses, the Internet. The Internet is going to support more users demanding more data and easy access to new kinds of data. They want more interaction with the page, more content, and they want to do electronic commerce.

IDG: What is the biggest opportunity for Informix in the immediate future?

PW: Data warehouses and data marts. Departmental demand for data-mart information is going to continue to feed on itself and drive a tremendous amount of business.

IDG: What role will your Smart Card alliance with Hewlett-Packard Co and GemPlus Card International play?

PW: I'm in the Smart Card business for two reasons. I think there are going to be billions of these cards issued; they will require large data warehouses on the back end. Secondly, it would be great to have 5 billion cards with my logo on each one.

IDG: Where does the Illustra DataBlade technology come in?

PW: The DataBlade concept is elegant. It is simply a software module that describes a new data type, its behaviour, and its access method. Today the access method is loaded into the database and is permanent. But with us, you buy a DataBlade and plug it into our database.

IDG: How are your DataBlades different from what your competitors are doing?

PW: Oracle today has a Universal Server; we have a Universal Server. Ours is one database with modules. Oracle bundles different servers together. There is no way they can ever support that environment in any volume.

IDG: If your solution is so simple and elegant, why haven't your competitors done it?

PW: The reason I paid so much for Illustra is it was the best object-relational database out there. The acquisition allowed me to get a year-and-a-half lead. I paid $US350 million, which is what I thought it'd be worth in July of 1996. I think it will change the database industry, because I think our competition will have to scurry to catch up.

IDG: How important is your partnership with Netscape Communications?

PW: Netscape's biggest competitors happen to be mine: Oracle and Microsoft [Corp]. I embed Netscape Navigator in my products, and they use my database for their back-end servers. I've got a team sitting in offices at Netscape doing current and future development.

IDG: What's in Informix's future?

PW: Once you have the ability to store all types of data, using the Illustra DataBlade technology, the logical extension is to give users answers to questions they haven't even thought to ask.

IDG: That sounds like data mining.

PW: It's data mining, but with an AI [artificial intelligence] bent. We can mine data before you even think about it.

IDG: When will we see this as a product?

PW: It will be several years away.

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