25th > February > 2003 Archive

IBM's (and Oracle's) plans for U2 users

Briefing NoteBriefing Note I recently had a briefing with IBM during which the subject of the future of Informix users came up, writes Phil Howard. The answer to that question is well known: IBM will continue to maintain and upgrade the Informix database for the foreseeable future but, in the longer term, IBM expects to provide migration capability to DB2. Mostly as an aside I also asked what plans the company had for its U2 databases, which it also acquired when it bought Informix. The answer was that it had no specific plans as the U2 databases use fundamentally different technologies from DB2. I thought this answer a little odd but did not pursue the matter. I had better explain what the U2 databases are and how they are different. The U2 databases consist of UniVerse and Unidata (hence U2), which were originally developed by VMark and Unidata respectively. Subsequently, the two companies merged to become Ardent Software and this in turn was bought by Informix, primarily for the company's DataStage ETL (extract, transform and load) tool. UniVerse and Unidata are relational databases with a difference. In conventional relational environments the first rule of relational technology is that you cannot have something called a repeating group. This would occur, for example, if you stored order header details and then all the order line details that pertained to that order within the same database table. In a relational database the order header details and order lines are stored in separate tables. Technically, this is known as First Normal Form. All standard relational databases adhere to this principle. However, as it happens, relational algebra (which is based on set theory) does not actually require adherence to First Normal Form. If you are careful enough about your implementation then you can preserve the integrity of relational algebra while allowing the use of repeating groups. This is what the U2 databases do and, for this reason, they are sometimes referred to as NF2 databases (Non First Normal Form). NF2 has two big advantages. The first is that you get better performance. By storing order lines with header details you can retrieve all relevant details from a single table rather than multiple tables. Secondly, you have far fewer tables. This makes the organisation of the database very much easier to understand and manage. Not surprisingly, therefore, the NF2 databases have proved very popular with VARs and software houses that want an easily managed, "fire-and-forget" database that they can embed within their software packages. As a result, the U2 databases are leading providers within the embedded database market, behind Oracle and Progress. What surprised me somewhat about IBM's response to my question about the U2 databases was that, actually, these are not so far apart from DB2 as you might imagine. This is because DB2 supports something called structured types. Without going into detail about these are, it is only necessary to know that you can embed structured types inside other structured types. In other words, DB2 supports nested tables, which is an exact equivalent of the NF2 approach used in the U2 databases: you construct a structured type for your order header and embed a structured type for order details within the first structured type and voilà. Obviously it's not quite as simple as this but the possibilities for migration are certainly there. To be honest, I would not have bothered in commenting on this lack of vision had I not had a recent briefing with Oracle, during which we discussed that company's migration strategy for Informix users. Almost in passing the subject of the U2 databases came up. And lo and behold, Oracle has a major U2 software house migrating all of its applications to Oracle. And how are they doing that? By using the nested table capability within the Oracle database. According to Oracle, the company has been pleasantly surprised at how simple and quick the conversion has been. You might argue that Oracle would say that wouldn't they, but actually it is logical and not particularly surprising. The bottom line is that IBM had better wake up or it is in danger of losing a substantial number of its U2 customers to Oracle. Once word gets out that this migration is relatively easy, significant numbers of U2 software houses may make the switch to Oracle. © IT-Analysis.com Phil Howard's Biog
IT-Analysis, 25 Feb 2003

Ireland sets FRIACO prices

Ireland's communications regulator ComReg says its flat-rate Internet access plans are on track, with wholesale prices set to come in at €12.77 per customer, per month. ComReg has reviewed Eircom's pricing submissions, and says that FRIACO (Flat-rate Internet Access Call Origination) is set for launch this summer. "We are pleased with the prices that Eircom has delivered and the process for FRIACO remains on track," said a ComReg spokesperson. Flat-rate Internet access will give Web users at home and in small businesses the ability to log on to the Internet over dial-up for unlimited periods of time at a fixed monthly price. Entrant telecoms, such as Esat BT and Nevada Tele.com, will buy wholesale access from Eircom and resell it to consumers. In its update, ComReg said that after reviewing Eircom's submission, the rate for un-metered wholesale Net access shall be set at €14,728 per 2Mb/s per annum, plus certain small administration fees. This price translates as roughly €12.77 per customer, per month on a wholesale basis -- one of the lowest flat-rate prices in Europe. Esat BT gave a lukewarm reaction to the price: "We are not dissatisfied. They are within the ballpark we expected." Esat BT, along with Nevada and Eircom, is expected to begin selling a consumer flat-rate product by June. The price of these products considered crucial to the growth of at-home Net use in Ireland. "The ultimate success of this announcement will depend on the availability and the affordability of the retail services that come from the wholesale pricing," industry pressure group Ireland Offline said in a statement, welcoming ComReg's ruling. "It is imperative that retail flat-rate access is priced so that it appeals to the maximum amount of people." According to Ireland Offline chairman David Long, a price of about €30 is the maximum that should be charged by any Irish telecom for a retail flat-rate service. "Above €30, Irish citizens won't really embrace the Internet," Long told ElectricNews.Net. He also said that Ireland Offline would welcome innovative off-peak (after 6pm) offerings from smaller telecoms in the months ahead, which should come in at prices substantially lower than €30. Esat BT said it is confident it can offer a service for between €25 and €35 per month. An Esat BT spokesperson added that the firm was "hopeful" that its price would be below €30 "but we'll have to do what is economically viable." © ENN Related Story Ireland set for flat-rate Net by June
ElectricNews.net, 25 Feb 2003

ALSTOM ditches EDS – before it gets started

ALSTOM has scrapped a mega-outsourcing deal with EDS after failing to "reach mutually acceptable terms". The French energy transmission giant said in a statement today that it "continues to favour outsourcing its IT in order to reduce costs, while delivering improved operational efficiency, and higher IT service and quality levels". So which bit were the two arguing the toss over? On November 20, 2002, ALSTOM anointed EDS as its preferred bidder for an outsourcing gig which would have seen the IT firm manage ALSTOM's IT infrastructure and applications in 14 countries - Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and US. The contract would have seen approx. 1,300 ALSTOM staffers transferred to EDS, according to a press release issued by EDS at the time (how long will this document survive onsite?). We guess IBM, CSC and others of that Ilk are already on the phone to ALSTOM. ®
Drew Cullen, 25 Feb 2003
Cat 5 cable

Morse dogged by falling Sun, HP sales

Sales carry on falling at Morse, Europe's biggest Sun dealer, but customers are rejecting other lines too. In its interims out today (but highlighted by the company last month), Morse revealed that Sun hardware sales slumped 36 per cent, while HP, another major mid-range franchise, were down 32 per cent for the six months to December 31, 2002. Overall, so-called infrastructure sales fell 27% in the six months to 31 December 2002 to £128.6 million. The one bright hardware spot is the IBM line which saw sales grew 3% to £29.9 million. By Morse's reckoning, lower sales volumes of Sun and HP midrange reflect the performance of the "whole enterprise market" - it thinks it held onto market share in its key verticals - finance and telecoms - during the period. Which is bad news for Sun and HP: Morse notes that its enterprise hardware sales are down 52 per cent since the six months ended December 31, 2000. And it says that trading conditions have not improved. As for IBM, Morse is chipping away, from a much smaller base, at market share rented by other dealers. This month it bought a GSA, a small London AS400 (OK, iSeries) dealership, to help it chip away some more. In common with any major reseller, Morse likes to highlight its services business, which now accounts for 31 per cent of sales and 40 per cent of profits. But this is not big enough yet to combat tumbling hardware sales. Group turnover fell 18 per cent to £185m compared with the same period last year. And it declared a loss before tax of £4.6m 2001: £3.4m) But the company is good at generating cash, even if it is less good than it used to be. This time around it produce a net inflow from ops of £13.3m (2001: £29.9m). Morse ended the financial period with a net cash balance of £83.5m (31 Dec 2001: £60.3m; 30 June 2002: £90.5m). The company is to pay an interim dividend of 1p a share for the first time, reflecting both its financial strength and the fact that it is operating in a maturing IT market, the board says. Morse also says it remains committed to replicating its business across Europe - it's big in the UK, much smaller in France and Germany, and has ops in Spain and Ireland. ® Related stories Morse buys AS400 house Hardware sales carry on falling at Morse Morse FY sales, profits down
Drew Cullen, 25 Feb 2003

Isonetric Broadband ceases trading

Isonetric Broadband Ltd - the Brighton-based broadband via satellite ISP - has ceased trading. Those behind the company decided to call time on the business last week. A London-based firm of accountants, BKR Haines Watts, has been instructed to convene a meeting of shareholders and creditors on March 7. It's understood that Isonetric will then be placed into liquidation. Last year Isonetric Broadband released a satellite broadband product which it claimed would "compete directly with ADSL". The company said the £30 a-month service would give users up to 1mbps of bandwidth downstream enabling them to access broadband content on the Net. ® Related Story UK to get Sat broadband for £30
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2003

Oh So Quiet with VIA 1GHz Mini-ITX

VIA today announces a 1GHz C3 processor version of its Mini-ITX mainboard. And it has set its sights on an application and a place for the little beast - Digital media centres and little PCs in the home. The company reckons the VIA EPIA M10000 Mini-ITX Mainboard, to give the mini-mobo its full title, is 50 per cent quieter than an "average" PC, citing an independent test which recorded 25dBA at one meter. According to VIA, the average PC noise ranges between 35dba and 50dba (the A weighted decibel scale is, as you well know, logarithmic) and "and can be equated to the noise made by an old refrigerator". The Mini-ITX incorporates what VIA calls a “fansink” (heat sink and fan combination); used in conjunction with "fanless small form factor cases and external AC power adaptors like those used with notebooks" OEMs can reduce system noise even further. This will enable system builders to overcome a major consumer objection in putting PCs in their sitting room, VIA says. Over to Richard Brown, marketing veep, for the quote. “The background noise from the loud cooling fans running in most of today’s PC systems has become a very real problem, and is the single most important concern raised by our customers developing systems targeted at the living space.” And on to the press release for a fuller spec. ®
Drew Cullen, 25 Feb 2003

Punters warned about UK Internet Registry Ltd

Nominet UK - the national Registry for all domain names ending .uk - is calling for people to get in touch if they have received what resembles an invoice from a company called UK Internet Registry Ltd. The company has been sending letters which "resemble invoices" to owners of .co.uk names. In the correspondence from UK Internet Registry it claims that the .com version of the .co.uk name is unregistered and offers to sell it for £175 a throw. Apart from the fact that this price is a bit steep, Nominet wants to make it absolutely clear that it has nothing to do with UK Internet Registry Ltd. It's currently investigating whether this company has a listing of .uk domain names and, if so, where it got it from. In a statement Nominet said: "We would like to clarify that there is absolutely no association between Nominet UK - the official Registry for .uk domain names - and the above company. We would like to point out that Nominet UK does not proactively sell .uk domain names and we have no involvement with the registration of .com domain names. "We advise companies never to be bounced into registering a domain name by the pressure selling tactics of an unknown third party. If you are unsure about the registration of a domain name, contact your usual provider who can advise you on the best course of action," it said. Domain registering outfit, Internetters, has a copy of the letter available on its Web site here. It reports that the domain name ukinternetregistry.com was only registered on February 6 2003 and ukinternetregistry.co.uk - which points to the same Web site - was registered four days later. Ken Sorrie of Internetters told The Register: "There are over three million UK domain names registered. Even if only a very small percentage of recipients of this mailshot respond and pay £175 each, then clearly this is a highly profitable exercise." "More importantly the question to be asked is - how did UK Internet Registry Ltd obtain the list of UK domains?" No one at UK Internet Registry Ltd was available for comment at the time of writing. Last month Nominet UK was forced to suspend its WHOIS service after spammers were thought to be behind a rogue attempt to copy the entire registry of .uk domains. ® Related Stories UK WHOIS service suspended after rogue attack Nominet wins injunction against DRS
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2003

ATI takes two AIW cards to Europe

ATI is shipping two ALL-IN-WONDER multimedia graphics cards into Europe, courtesy of boardmakers Hercules and Sapphire. They are the ALL-IN-WONDER 9700 PRO and ALL-IN-WONDER VE. As they were launched in the States last year we see little reason to run through the spec. And as ATI Europe has in its infinite wisdom decided to brief UK journalists tomorrow afternoon i.e. more than a full day after the issuance of the press release, and a day after journos in some other European countries, we see little reason to run through prices or availability. ®
Drew Cullen, 25 Feb 2003

Malvern votes against evoting

Councillors in the Malvern Hills have ditched plans to trial evoting in the upcoming spring local elections after the Government failed to give its full approval for the project to go ahead. Malvern Hills District Council (MHDC) - which had been working with BT to run the Internet-voting project - was recently named as one of 18 authorities to trial evoting. But the Malvern Gazette reports that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) failed to give the scheme its full approval. As a result, the council has decided to shelve plans for the e-voting trial in case it caused any disruption. News of Malvern's decision to pull out of the trial comes as analysts at IDC reckon that IT-related spending on eGovernment initiatives in Europe will grow by 13 per cent to $2.8bn this year. Said senior IDC research analyst James Weir: "In a soft IT market, eGovernment services are growing fast. From broadband to tax returns, this is an opportunity for service providers to transform Europe's public services." The research - due to be presented at an eGovernment conference in Dublin on March 6 - names Ireland as one of the most "sophisticated" eGovernment countries in Europe. ®
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2003

Co-founder buys Turbolinux's Linux, Windows cluster software

PowerCockpit, pretty much all that was left of Turbolinux following the sale of its Linux business and name last year, has itself been sold. Server management and storage software outfit Mountain View Data today announced that it has acquired the product. PowerCockpit, which is proprietary software, allows the management and configuration of clusters of Linux and Windows servers in grid computing environments. Speaking to The Register yesterday, Mountain View Data president and CEO Cliff Miller said the acquisition was a good fit with Mountain View's existing range of products, and positioned the company nicely to take advantage of growth in the Intel-based clustering market. PowerCockpit's customer base includes the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute at the University of Utah, which runs a 32 node cluster. Its future has however been under something of a cloud because of the silence from Turbolinux since it announced the distro sale, and the uncertainty must have impeded sales. Cliff Miller himself is a co-founder of Turbolinux, but left prior to founding Mountain View Data. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed, and although there's surely a very interesting tale to tell here, The Reg was unable to pursue it owing to a collapsing mobile phone connection. Weirdly although both he and we were by coincidence visiting the same city (San Francisco), we were downtown and he was at the airport changing planes. So close, but no cigar - another time. ® Related stories: How LinuxDisk will put a bomb under storage fatcats
John Lettice, 25 Feb 2003

Overture buys FAST's web search biz

Overture is stumping up to $100m cash for the Internet business of Fast Search & Transfer (FAST). The keyword ad Johnny is shelling out $70m cash upfront and up to $30m in performance incentives to the Norwegian search firm over three years. In turn it gets FAST WebSearch, AlltheWeb.com, and FAST PartnerSite. FAST says it will now focus on its enterprise search business, which currently accounts for 75 per cent of turnover. The deal is expected to close by April. In the old days it used to be called doing business at Internet speed. Overture has certainly been bloody quick in recent days, buying up first AltaVista for $140m and now FAST. But maybe it has had to be quick. In December, Yahoo! a major customer, bought Inktomi for $235m in cash. At some point, Yahoo! surely will replace both Google and Yahoo! with Inktomi technology. At the same time, Google is looming increasingly large, even if its pay-for-placement service is right now a fraction of the turnover - we guess - of Overture's. Google's traffic will ensure that sales will pick up. So what was Overture to do? In essence it is doing a reverse Google, and Yahoo! So it is retrofitting its own search engine technology, which many claim is superior to Google, and it has its very own portal to play with. Admittedly, AltaVista has seen better days. Much better days. But if they can revive Napster (no they can't - ed), surely Overture can return AltaVista to a little of its former glory. ® Related stories/link Overture press release AltaVista flogged to Overture Yahoo! buys! Inktomi Freeserve junks Inktomi, goes FAST Search firms upgrade relevance, bells, whistles
Drew Cullen, 25 Feb 2003

More broken monitors now!

Monitor prices are falling and reliability is climbing. That's a good thing, right? Not if you are a warranty repair firm, to which it is more akin to something between a rock and a hard place. Falling prices means that warranty provision becomes a higher percentage of the product cost and so something for the manufacturers to squeeze. And improved reliability of LCD screens, already accounting for 30 per cent-plus of new monitor sales in Europe, means that manufacturers can squeeze with impunity. More or less. Fewer returns means less revenue for third party service companies. And a significant decline in the CRT monitor warranty base over the next few years - i.e. fewer screens to repair - will also hit the service companies hard. That in a nutshell is the summary of a report into the European monitor warranty service marketplace from Meko, the UK display research firm. ®
Drew Cullen, 25 Feb 2003

UK ICT spending on the up

The UK was one of the worst-performing markets for ICT growth last year, according to research published today. IT spending in the UK market remained flat in 2002 at €119bn, according to the European Information Technology Observatory (EITO). Of all the European countries analysed, only Germany performed worse than the UK. However, the EITO reckons that the UK could see ICT spending jump 3.6 per cent to €123bn this year and a further 4.4 per cent (€129 billion) in 2004 fuelled by spending on security and eGovernment. Indeed, the improvement in the UK is something that is expected to be repeated throughout Europe, with analysts claiming that we could be witnessing the first green shoots of recovery in the ICT market. The EITO reckons that the European ICT (information, technology and telecommunications) market should grow 2.5 per cent this year and be worth around €607bn. For 2004, it forecasts that the total ICT spend will rise 4 per cent to €632bn. Last year, the growth in spending hit an all-time low of just 0.2 per cent. The MD of the EITO, Bernhard Rohleder, reckons that the ICT industry is currently in an "intermediate phase" between "two extraordinary growth cycles". Said Rohleder: "The first cycle now being concluded was driven by the intense pro-active market liberalisation policies, the diffusion of mobile telephony, stationary Internet applications and the year 2000 data change. "Future growth will be driven by extremely promising tendencies in technology from broadband services to ubiquitous computing and mobile Internet applications. This will promote the diffusion of most innovative ICT solutions with enormous impact on productivity and economic development," he said. ®
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2003

India figures high in MS dev outsourcing plans

Microsoft's recent investments in India appear to be only a part of a larger and more radical plan to conduct an increasing proportion of the company's development activities there. Although the company remains highly profitable in the teeth of a slump it is attempting to keep costs in the west down, while dangling the prospect of 'two for the price of one' worker deals in front of its managers. Last month the Washington Technology Workers Alliance (WashTech) published the text of a Powerpoint presentation on the advantages of India, apparently made to managers in Redmond last July by senior VP for the Windows division Brian Valentine. It is not clear whether Valentine was describing a formal policy that already exists or putting forward an argument for such a policy. Microsoft's recent activities in India do however suggest that something along the lines of what he presented is at least beginning to happen. The presentation takes an aggressive approach; "Redmond is not the center of the universe", and "you can do it outside Redmond." He points out that competitors such as Cisco, GE and Dell (not a company we'd automatically categorise as a Microsoft competitor, but still..) "already have this religion" and that it's "time for Microsoft to join the party." The religion he appears to be proposing is not the large-scale abandonment of development in the US, nor does it seem to include the possibility of major job cuts there. But if Microsoft is to take advantage of lower costs in India, clearly stable employment levels in the US are dependent on continuing growth, and consequent continuing expansion of the company's total headcount. Which we can't assume will go on forever, and we wouldn't expect Microsoft's own execs to assume such a thing. Valentine seems to envisage outsourcing to local companies (there is a reference to the Infosys Development Center in the presentation) as helping Microsoft move to "developing and marketing our technologies everywhere." This will not simply be low-grade work, as "outsourcing is not just for coding," but on the other hand there will be a component of this. Having substantial Indian operations would allow the total work day to be extended to "16-18 hours," and he dangles the prospect of code being checked into the Indian operation at close of play in Redmond, and returning tested the following morning. Ability to hire and fire easily also plays a part. Contractors can be hired for "very short engagements," and it is simple to "add and subtract resources for ramp-ups and ramp-downs." Which would mean Microsoft could add headcount in India fast in order to handle major software development projects, then shed it again at the other end of the process. He end by dangling before managers the prospect of a simple way to get more workers ("Did you get the headcount you needed?") and Challenging them to pick something from their project list "to move offshore today." ® Related links Text of the presentation WashTech
John Lettice, 25 Feb 2003

Sun's Niagara is SPARC on Viagra

Sun talked a little more about its CPU roadmap today, christening the ultra-dense multiple core SPARC technology it acquired from Afara Websystems last year "Niagara". It also made a commitment that could come back to haunt it, if it fails to deliver: the first Niagara systems, said Sun, will offer 15 times more throughput than today's blades by 2005. As we exclusively revealed here, Afara Websystems was established to explore ultra dense multiple-core systems based on the SPARC instruction set. Behind Niagara is chip guru Les Kohn, who was involved in the Intel i860 and i960 chips, and NatSemi's Swordfish. He previously served a spell at Sun designing UltraSPARC I. Kohn still hasn't returned our call from last July, but David Yen was doing the speaking on behalf of Sun today at its analyst conference in San Francisco. "High performance microprocessors are by no means at the commodity state," insisted Yen. On page 46 of his presentation [here, 4.6MB PDF] is a reference to a future Niagara system that's described as a "SPARC systems processor" - a server on a chip with 30x the throughput of today's blades. Sun believes that it's new processor design can fend off competition from cheap x86 boxen because they are more efficient CMT designs. Memory latency is not improving at the same rate as clock frequencies. Intel also believes this - all its mainstream processors are or soon will be multithreaded too. But Sun thinks its threading is more efficient, or efficient enough to stop users switching. The multithreaded UltraSPARC V will debut in 2005 on .09 micron process, Yen said. He also said that UltraSPARC 7 will feature asynchronous circuitry. But you probably knew that already.® Related Stories Asynchronous processing, multiple cores in SPARC future Ex-Intel, Sun chip guru brewing multichip SPARC
Andrew Orlowski, 25 Feb 2003