With the future of Ingres Corp attracting much gossip at the moment, combined with the fact that its name is being increasingly associated with Hewlett-Packard, the question that comes to mind is: what exactly is Hewlett-Packard up to when it comes to a database strategy? In the old days with the MPE 3000, the issue was simple, Image, Hewlett-Packard’s hierarchical database engine, was bundled with the hardware. This was no big deal at the time since Image was little more than each user’s commercial applications writ large. Don Phillips, product marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard in the UK, reckons that there are currently 40,000 Image users worldwide. AllBase was Hewlett’s attempt to integrate Image with an SQL interface and a relational database all in one system. AllBase, however, was originally intended as an add-on option for MPE to enable Image users to move into the realms of relational databases. At the time, Phillips says, the move to relational databases was driven by market vogue rather than user requirements and added that this explains why Hewlett-Packard did not get a good take-up when it offered AllBase with a price tag rather than bundling it free. However, new customers were, and still are, offered AllBase bundled with MPE. Furthermore, around 25% of Hewlett-Packard’s research and development budget goes to MPE, and of that sum it is safe to assume that a large chunk goes to ensure that AllBase keeps up with the company’s increasingly powerful Precision Architecture. However, Hewlett does not bundle any database with its implementation of Unix, HP-UX. This is a deliberate move, since, as Phillips explains, the whole point of open systems is that they bring in freedom of choice to put together a system with a mix and match of hardware, database and applications from a variety of vendors. Also, Phillips believes that non-proprietary hardware vendors make themselves less competitive by bundling a database with their machines since it bumps up the system price and may very well not be the database that the user wants. Having said that HP-UX users can buy AllBase as an option should they so desire. However, the intention is that AllBase enable MPE users to upgrade within the MPE environment, but be able to integrate with open systems via NewWave. For example, a customer could have an MPE database at the centre of a system with, say, Oracle engines hanging off it, fronted by personal computers. When it comes to recommending third party databases, Phillips says that there is a downside to having too close a relationship with any one vendor – largeli that in an open system environment a preferred database vendor that has relationships with other hardware vendors could introduce rival hardware into a user site. The flip side of this coin, however, is arguably that if money is spent developing a database so that it fits particularly snugly between a vendor’s proprietary and open offering, users not only have an added incentive to remain loyal to the hardware vendor, they may also be encouraged to buy proprietary hardware. Indeed, one of the criticisms made by Butler Bloor in its influential report Database: An Evaluation and Comparison of Hewlett-Packard’s AllBase product is that it is engineered specifically for its own hardware making it difficult to convert it for other Unix-alike hardware.
In response Phillips questioned the need to migrate, saying that AllBase users could access other databases using SQL and the Ingres development environment. A couple of months ago Hewlett signed a joint marketing agreement with Ingres to cater for this sort of scenario. At the beginning of the year, DEC also announced that it was taking a stake in Ingres allegedly because it was worried that Hewlett was cosying up to its preferred database vendor – and then changed its mind a couple of months ago. Phillips continued by saying that in the open systems environment users were asking for close relationships between hardware vendors and database vendors. On large installations this meant Oracle or Ingres – i
n the UK, Hewlett is asked to bid Ingres as often as Oracle, but sells Informix more than any other database. The problem with Informix, however, according to Phillips, is that it has trouble supporting more than 40 users. Having spent the entire interview working hard to emphasise his company’s neutrality when it comes to third-party databases Phillips concluded by saying that it wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest if Hewlett-Packard did take a stake in Ingres… Katy Ring