Databases wrestle XML

As XML works its way deeper into the enterprise, the database war heats up, with IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Oracle Corp. wrestling over emerging query standards and database architectures.

Despite agreement that XML has become the lingua franca of the Internet, a lack of tight integration between XML and databases may hinder the wide-scale deployment of Web services. XML itself may also be an obstacle, as its verbosity carries overhead that can choke application performance.

Pursuing its own agenda, IBM is set to announce support for the XML query language XQuery in July when it delivers the next beta version of its DB2 database to select customers.

Due to ship later this year, the final product, Xperanto, will more fully exploit XQuery and will build on IBM’s goal of seamlessly marrying structured and unstructured data across diverse environments.

Meanwhile, Oracle is leveraging existing investments in object databases to flesh out XML support in its XDB architecture and has plans to incorporate XQuery.

Also planning XQuery support, Microsoft is working to marry its structured and unstructured databases with SQL and Exchange Server, respectively, wrapping XML in a relational format with SQL XML.

At the same time, native XML database players such as Ipedo, Software AG, and NeoCore are gathering steam, seeking direct expression of XML content in the database itself.

“[Customers] need to combine XML technology with the ability to federate across existing infrastructures and existing data stores. That is basically our strategy,” said Nelson Mattos, distinguished engineer and director of information integration at IBM’s Silicon Valley labs.

With enterprises looking for consistent, native XML support across competitive databases as a solution to integration problems, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle have yet to agree on a consistent approach.

“Customers tell us they cannot use a rip-and-replace strategy, which says, ‘I cannot accept the strategy that says to move everything into my database.’ That is unreal. [Customers] would be spending money to replace infrastructure already up and running and returning results,” Mattos said.

Carl Olofson, program director for information and data management software research at IDC in Framingham, Mass., disagrees, arguing enterprises want a single database for both XML documents and other structured data.

“The reason XML data will be important is, if you want to store enterprise-relevant information — business-critical or mission-critical — you probably want to do that in one database,” Olofson said.

Oracle’s architectures, including Oracle Call Interface and Oracle XML DB, are designed to enable XML to access structured data and content and include emerging support for SQL XML and X Path, as well as a prototype implementation of XQuery available for download.

“The point is, users should be able to access XML data natively,” said George Demarest, senior director of database marketing at Oracle in Redwood Shores, Calif. “Our goal … was to make XML data basically appear within the Oracle server as standard relational tables.”

Rather than pursue its previous approach of employing multiple database engines, Microsoft is building a 64-bit XML database — code-named Yukon and due for release in 2003 — around SQL XML. “We built some additions to the SQL language capability to return that data as XML. SQL XML is part of it; the rest of it is focused on the ability to expose stored procedures, which are SQL code, as Web services,” said Eric Brown, product manager for SQL Server at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft released its latest version of SQL XML, Version 3.0, in February and will support XQuery in late 2003, company officials said.

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