Informix is pushing Internet and intranet functionality with its "Datablade" concept. With its purchase of Illustra earlier this year, Informix has staked out its territory in the management of complex-unstructured data. The engine to drive the operations will be the Informix Universal Server, slated for shipping in the fourth quarter of 1996. The Universal Server will be, according to Informix, "the first enterprise-capable, extensible, relational database management system". What differentiates the Informix product from others is the inclusion of Dynamic Scalable Architecture (DAS), which creates an integrated information management solution that can handle a wide variety of data types. The mechanisms to handle diverse sets of data are called Datablades.
In a nutshell, Datablades are modules that provide capabilities to create content, manage Web sites and deploy applications for different data models. Currently, 24 technology vendors have joined the Datablade developers' programme, including MapInfo for the inclusion of geo-spatial data, Adobe for the inclusion of .pdf data, Macromedia for Macromedia file management, Verity, Excalibur and Open Text for text search and management, and Verage Technologies for content-based image management.
These Datablades allow Net developers to create applications that go out, search a variety of data sources, not just data that sits in a RDBMS but a wide variety of databases, and incorporate the results into a Web page that can be accessed remotely. In addition, the browser can be enabled to edit, update and create data on the fly, regardless of the source. Datablades contain user-defined data definitions which specify data types, data behaviours, and access methods. So any data type which can be rigorously defined is a candidate for a specialised Datablade. The Datablade developers programme has been developed to support these initiatives.
Stewart Robinson, a senior consultant at Illustra, places Datablades and the Universal Server in the context of an evolutionary process. "We see this development as a third-generation Web site enabler. The first generation Web sites dealt strictly with HTML. They were one-way information delivery. Second-generation Web sites were based on accessing data from traditional relational databases over the net and displaying the results. This was a two-way information exchange, but limited by the types of data that could be accessed. Third-generation Web sites are those which can truly interact with rich data types not normally associated with RDBMS technology. The enabling mechanisms are the Datablades."
Robinson goes on to talk about Web Time. "Web Time happens much faster than people time. In the past, developments occurred and people had time to process the information before the next wave of developments came along. With the Internet, all this has changed. Even a few months' head start with a new technology can spell the difference between success and failure."
The big question, of course, is whether the people who are charged with managing Web sites and databases keep sufficiently abreast of the technology to incorporate the requisite management structure as required. That remains to be seen.
(Phil Parent is an Internet consultant at Creative Data in Auckland.)