Informix: the technology's great, the bottom line ain't

Just eight months ago, Informix Software was the darling of the database industry, beating its competitors to market with a leading-edge object-relational database that some experts said would eventually overtake today's databases. But Informix's DataBlades - the modules that allow databases to handle objects and multimedia data types - do not look so threatening now that Informix's primary database rivals, including IBM, Oracle, Sybase and Microsoft, have responded with similar technology.

Just eight months ago, Informix Software was the darling of the database industry, beating its competitors to market with a leading-edge object-relational database that some experts said would eventually overtake today's databases.

But Informix's DataBlades - the modules that allow databases to handle objects and multimedia data types - do not look so threatening now that Informix's primary database rivals, including IBM, Oracle, Sybase and Microsoft, have responded with similar technology.

As the Menlo Park, California-based company caps off its user meeting in a few weeks in San Francisco, it is expected to detail plans to ship its Informix Universal Server for Windows NT in September and its efforts to shore up Web development tools for its database. However, many users will be examining the company's bottom line as closely as its products.

Unfortunately, financial analysts expect that its second-quarter financial results won't be much to look at. After posting a US$140-million first-quarter 1997 loss and laying off 10% of its workforce, analysts expect Informix to lose about 25 cents per share for the quarter that ended June 30.

This result comes after a startling 1996, when Informix surpassed Sybase to gain the No. 2 spot in market share and launched its Informix Universal Server in December amid strong growth. CEO Phil White even set his sights on overtaking Oracle by 1999.

Analysts said that focus on its database technology, particularly Universal Server, contributed to the company's losses. While Oracle, IBM, and Sybase expanded their Windows NT and data mart product lines and diversified their business with tools and middleware, Informix continued to concentrate on its core database technology.

"[Database technology] is where Informix was differentiating themselves, but it also increases the risk because if something goes wrong, they're more vulnerable, which I think is exactly what happened," says Jim Pickrel, a database securities analyst at Hambrecht & Quist, in San Francisco.

Analysts note that Informix addresses problems, which are largely internal issues, by reorganising its sales staff and partnerships with Netscape, Baan, and Intel.

Despite the company's financial travails, Informix Universal Server is getting a technical thumbs-up from early implementers.

"[Universal Server] is working fine so far," says Dave Wagner, Internet advertising systems manager at The Seattle Times newspaper, which plans to use Informix Universal Server on its Web site.

Integrator Future Focus, in San Diego, plans to deploy Informix Universal Server at a number of sites in Web applications, including at Chat TV, which links chat rooms to TV programs, and Academic Press book publishers.

Future Focus is opting to deploy Illustra initially, which yielded the multimedia and object features for the Universal Server, but will hold off on the Universal Server until it matures. This situation, coupled with an immature market for DataBlades for new data types, is likely contributing to stalled deployments for Informix.

"With the first release of any new products, we're always cautious," said Tim Ash, Future Focus' president and CEO. "It's rock-solid; we're just giving it time to see if anybody else has problems with it."

Like many, Ash says that Informix's troubles stem from neglect of relational technology once the object-relational product shipped.

"I think their main problem is they stopped selling the main product line," Ash said.

However, Informix is promising a new emphasis on the NT platform and has acknowledged that it must tend to the needs of relational customers. But demand for object-relational technology will grow.

"Certainly, the buzz around other publishers is that Informix is the way to go," says Craig Moncrief, president of Chat TV, in San Diego. Chat TV will use object-relational technology for thousands of TV and PC customers.

Crucial Steps

Informix's plan to merge its database technology

Product Ship date

Informix Universal Server December 1996

(for Sun Solaris and SGI Irix)

Informix Online XPS (Extended September 1997

Parallel Server)for Windows NT

Informix Online XPS 8.2 (will run on September 1997

multiple CPUs in a single computer)

Integration of XPS and Workgroup 1998

Server RDBMS for two-node cluster

support

Convergence of database products No set date

into Informix Universal Server

SIDEBAR: Informix Tools Deal

By Paul Krill

As part of its strategy to fill product holes -- notably development tools -- through partnerships, Informix and Haht Software this week said that they are negotiating to integrate the upcoming Hahtsite 3.0 Web application development tool with Informix Universal Web Connect middleware.

The deal, which may be announced soon at Informix's developer conference in San Francisco, positions Hahtsite 3.0 as a tool for Web-based applications that run off of the Informix Universal Web Architecture. Universal Web Connect middleware links database content to a Web server.

Hahtsite 3.0, to be unveiled next week, features native access to Informix and Oracle databases, said officials in Raleigh, N.C. Shipping by late 1997, it will cost about $995 for the client and between $4,995 and $6,995 for the server.

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