Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/07/11/ibm_db2_developers/

IBM database strategy chief on DB2: Devs are people too

Big Blue looks beyond DBAs for input on features

By Gavin Clarke

Posted in Developer, 11th July 2012 10:19 GMT

Developers are exerting greater influence on new versions of IBM’s DB2 database, according to one of Big Blue's information management strategy chiefs.

Bernie Spang, director of strategy and marketing for database software and systems, said while IBM has historically consulted DBAs on new features they’d like in IBM’s mighty database, that has changed.

In an interview with El Reg, Spang said IBM is now taking a more balanced approach. “It’s not shifted from one to the other, it’s got to be both,” he told us.

Driving the change is a need to make DB2 more comfortable for developers building web and big data apps that suck on the DB2 data store.

One recent consequence of the shifting approach was the addition of tripled graph-store capabilities for graph analytics in DB2 10.1, which was released in April.

Graph stores find connections between data, so you don’t have to search through piles of relational tables or raw info using Hadoop. Graphs are popular with social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn trying to establish connections between individuals on their sites.

Looking ahead, Spang called key-value pairs a “hot area”. This might be one possibility for future inclusion in DB2.

“It’s going to be driven by the application developers, that’s what’s pushing this, which is different historically – historically we’ve spoken to the DBAs,” Spang said of the recent and future changes.

“I got asked in one interview: ‘Did the DBAs ask for the RDF triple store?’ No, the DBAs didn’t ask for that, it’s for those who want a simpler structure to do things in a different way,” the strategy boss said.

“It was same with XML,” he said. IBM announced XML in DB2 10 years ago with XQuery – the programming language to query XML.

Spang continued: “The DBAs said: ‘I don’t want to put XML in my relational database' and we said: 'Right – we are giving you the same software, it’s just a different structure.' It’s a way for the app developers to find ways that are going to be faster, simpler easier for them.”

Support for XML gave DB2 and its associated tools the ability to combine structured and unstructured data, with the ability to search the data’s metadata.

IBM’s feeling its way on new capabilities like RDF data store in DB2.

Graph data is stored using the Resource Definition Framework (RDF) and queried using the SPARQL query language to look for triple patterns, conjunctions, disjunctions and optional patterns.

“We will bring it [RDF] in, see how it goes, and if this turns out to be a relatively small niche or a passing fad, because the next thing comes along and supersedes it, we will evolve,” Spang said.

Risky business

There is a risk associated in following development trends more closely. Of all the disciplines in IT, software development is arguably the most subject to changing trends and religious disagreements: while there are languages and frameworks that have survived decades newcomers stir up the memes and come pre-loaded with their own pros and cons.

For example, there are 22 Javascript frameworks and 43 frameworks for PHP. C is the world’s most popular programming language according to the Toibe Index, and ObjectiveC just overtook C++. But it's the newer Ruby – with less than 2 per cent usage – that has generated excitement in recent years.

Big Data is even more of a nose bleed. The industry pendulum has swung from all-in on NoSQL and the death of relational back to the co-existence of NoSQL and relational. The NoSQL databases and frameworks have also had to grow up on features.

DB2 now supports Hadoop, but some reckon there are better alternatives.

Hadoop, reckons Spang, suited the “new information challenge” for processing data in a way that didn’t fit into the standard relational data model.

So how does IBM navigate DB2 through such changes when it is a stable and secure piece of software? How can IBM ensure DB2, which hits its 30th birthday next year, stays fresh without losing its stability – and without heading off down a historical dead end by backing a new technology that falls out of favour?

“We’ve got a history and a proven track record of being able to add new capabilities without disrupting what’s [already] there,” Spang said.

When it comes which new technologies to pick, Spang said Big Blue listens to the “conversation” in the industry. On this basis, IBM then decides whether it’s worth supporting such a technology, building its own or buying it up.

The IBM exec believes DB2 can serve as a stable platform for the newer technologies. “We’ve seen this over and over again,” said Spang.

“New technologies come out, new ways to do things, and the advanced guard are looking for rapid deployment and flexibility and an easy of trying things out. When it comes to running [your] own business, then you start worrying about high availability, security, reliability... My answer is, if we already have those things and it’s easier and quicker to add a new technology on top that’s a more scalable and robust system – we will do that.

"Our clients who are saying: ‘Big data, what’s the buzz? Our guys are tinkering with stuff but, IBM, how is it going to fit into my IT environment of security and reliability?' That’s where IBM’s expertise comes into play.” ®