IBM’s Toronto lab looks back on 25 years of DB2

IBM is looking back on 25 years of its popular DB2 relational database this month, and the firm’s Toronto Software Lab wants to make sure Canada’s contribution to its development isn’t forgotten.

Big Blue first launched DB2 in 1983 for the multiple virtual storage (MVS) operating system that ran its System/390 mainframes, following a research project called System R that involved delivering SQL/DS (Structured Query Language/Data System) on the VM and VSE OSes. According to Richard Hedges, director of new development for DB2 at IBM Canada, the Toronto lab got involved two years later.

“We were working on referential integrity in 85-86. We were sharing specifications and design stuff for the work we were doing for VSE and VM,” he said. “From there, we started things like a language council to keep the SQL language that was moving back and forth across all the teams consistent.”

IBM now employs about 650 people who work on DB2 development in Canada, and about another 150 who work on supporting the product, Hedges said. Over that quarter-century period, the scale of user demand has changed drastically, he said.

“In the early 80s, it was emerging technology. Most of the production systems in the world were running on IMS. A lot of them still are,” he said. “What’s happened over the 25 years is that relational has become the database language interface across the industry.”

DB2 has also become a highly influence product, spawning a number of rival players that continue to emerge, most recently the open source MySQL, which was purchased by Sun Microsystems.

“If you go back 25 years, Oracle was a little tiny player. Microsoft as a database player didn’t really exist,” Hedges said. “Even over the last 10 years, the database world has kind of shrunk into three, four kinds of primary players. Going forward, to a large extent it’s a game of leapfrog.”

In a report from IDC last year, however, Oracle claimed 44 per cent of the market, followed by DB2 at 21.2 per cent and Microsoft with 18.6 per cent market. IBM is hoping to stay ahead by offering deeper integration between DB2 and some of the software it has acquired, including Ottawa-based business intelligence firm Cognos and Toronto-based master data management provider DWL. Relationships are already being formed between product teams and lab teams to ensure skills are shared effectively, according to Hedges.

The Canadian community around DB2 includes the Central Canada DB2 Users Group, which will be holding its annual meeting in October. According to Tim Johnson, one of the group’s directors, the once-quarterly events have been scaled back in terms of frequency but the two-day conference still attract about 150 people.

“Performance is always a hot topic,” said Johnson, who gave IBM high marks for non-mainframe versions of DB2. “They’ve been very good at continually improving the products.”

Hedges said the Toronto team is also highly focused on bringing down the total cost of ownership on the product, he said, and adding more self-managing and self-healing features. In some cases this means different skills than the structured programming based on Assembler and Fortran he learned at the University of Waterloo.

“What we don’t get coming out of school is people who write C code. They’re more attuned to the new programming frameworks,” he said. “Things like XML have changed the way you interact with our data server. Now we have a bilingual database. You can speak SQL, you can speak X-query.”

The most recent release of DB2 is Viper 2, version 9.5, released in October 2007.

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