PALO ALTO, CALIF. - Is the database still relevant? Panelists at a Software Development Forum session here Wednesday evening debated this and other questions pertaining to what will be the role of databases in the future, chiming in about the elevated role of XML, commoditization, and open source software.
Discussing whether the database is becoming simply a component of a larger application platform, MySQL co-founder David Axmark said he would never put data in a format that he did not know.
"I would like to have data in a way I could handle," Axmark said.
IBM's Jon Rubin, senior product specialist for DB2 solution development, said a business executive might want to purchase a whole platform in which the particular database is irrelevant to him. "But if you're IT [personnel], that database is not a commodity, not today, and probably not interchangeable," Rubin said. He cited issues such as manageability, recoverability, and service-level issues related to specific databases.
Kevin Perry, chief data architect at Inovant, which provides credit card transaction processing services for Visa, said the role of the database depends on the depth of the application stack. Light versions of DB2 or Oracle databases perhaps could be displaced by JDO (Java Data Objects). "My problem deals with terabytes of information, so the value for us is data itself," Perry said.
"I think the database should be a commodity and I shouldn't drill down so much in Oracle's calls or [IBM DB2] Universal Database's calls or anyone else's calls," he said. But drivers should be swappable for putting in, for example, DB2 Universal Database in place of another database, Perry said. There are times, however, when a specific feature of a particular database is desirable, but users need to have flexibility on price.
"You just have to be aware of who you hug and who you kiss" when signing a contract to use a database, Perry said.
IBM's Rubin stressed the complexity of enterprise databases makes specific variants relevant.
"In the real world of enterprises, [the] database is so complex and so challenging in so many different directions, it's hard to find an application that can afford to live with the lowest common denominator of, let's say, ANSI SQL," Rubin said.
Although panelists noted the upcoming release of the SQL 2003 specification, they also said not all features of the SQL 99 specification have been put to use.
"If you're familiar with the SQL 99 spec, there's a vast body in SQL 99 that's still untapped," Rubin said.
Meanwhile, more functionality is being expressed in XML, he said.
"If we can make XML a first class data type, what that means is we would actually optimize access to XML," Rubin said.
Axmark added that XML is useful as an exchange format.
Rubin also said unstructured data, such as digital images and digital audio, do not belong in databases, but meta data references describing these data sets should be in the database.
Panelists also discussed the role of open source databases.
"I would say we do some things new," Axmark said. MySQL offers an open source database.
"We do our innovations [at a] very, very low level," Axmark said.
Rubin called the open source database "an important phenomenon."