Ingres Loyalists Cautiously Hopeful For a Reversal of Database Decline

CA spin-off woos enterprises tired of license fees

The new owners of the venerable Ingres database are pinning their comeback hopes on enterprise users who are fed up with the hefty commercial license fees and open-source developers who are largely unaware of the long-declining database.

Users of Ingres, which then-owner Computer Associates International Inc. turned open-source last year, say they are heartened by what they are hearing from Ingres Corp.

But analysts remain skeptical about Ingres' chances of success, and even the database's loyalists said it's a bit like deja vu, having listened to similar rhetoric when Ingres was acquired by CA in 1994.

"On the face of it, the announcement looks good," said Andy Park, information services project manager at the Pesticides Safety Directorate of the U.K. government, which has used Ingres since 1992. Park called it "rock solid" and less problematic than other databases he manages, such as SQL Server and MySQL.

"But what will happen in two to three years' time? Will the owners decide to sell the product and take their money elsewhere? It is a big opportunity for Ingres but a risk for existing users," he said.

Chairman and Interim CEO Terry Garnett, an enterprise software executive turned venture capitalist, on Nov. 7 finalized his takeover of the Ingres product line from CA. CA will retain 20% of the Redwood City, Calif.-based firm.

Ingres' business strategy will be to woo users with its comparatively cheap $2,000-per-CPU annual support fee and target users that are adding databases, rather than tackling the more difficult task of convincing them to migrate their existing ones, said Chief Technology Officer Dave Dargo, who, like Garnett, is an Oracle Corp. veteran.

"I am a lot happier about their plans for the product and how this will benefit us current users, not only in terms of raising the profile of Ingres but also increased investment into the technology," said David Postle, chairman of the U.K. Ingres Users Association.

According to Curt Monash, a consultant in Acton, Mass., and a Computerworld columnist, Ingres' technical features fall somewhere between those of the big commercial databases and the leading open-source ones. In his blog, DBMS2.com, Monash wrote that Ingres R3 "definitely seems to lag in data warehousing," but it is comparable with Oracle's previous version, 9i, in terms of online transaction-processing features and is "certainly ahead of MySQL 5.0."

Vendor revenues from open-source databases are expected to rise from $250 million this year to $1 billion in 2008, according to Forrester Research Inc. But Ingres must convince open-source developers to adopt and evangelize for Ingres at a time when more buzzworthy alternatives such as MySQL or Postgres exist.

Attracting a strong developer following failed to happen under CA. For example, last year, the company offered $1 million in prizes to open-source developers who created migration tools from other databases to Ingres, but it was only able to give away half of the prize money.

That doesn't surprise Mark Brewer, CEO of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Covalent Technologies Inc.

"Even though Ingres is as rich functionalitywise as Oracle, software developers in college don't think Ingres is sexy," said Brewer. "The only community Ingres has is its existing user base."

That community is much smaller today than it was in previous years, with only 8,000 to 10,000 users worldwide, according to Ingres. The North American Ingres Users Association has been largely inactive for several years, said sources. But one Ingres user conference last year drew about 150 attendees, according to Nick Vancas, president of Ingres support provider Database Management Technology Inc., which co-sponsored the event with CA.

According to Park, "CA never managed to capture the imagination of the open-source community. We run both Ingres and MySQL internally, and Ingres is so far advanced in ease of use, performance and robustness. But when people think of open-source databases, they do not think Ingres. In my opinion, this is the battle that matters."

And it's one they are likely to lose, said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group. He said Ingres will have a hard time "standing out," with open-source databases on one side and free versions of Oracle and SQL Server on the other.

"I don't know why Ingres thinks they have a lot of running room in front of them," he said.

The New Ingres

Ingres Corp.

Majority-owned by venture capital firm Garnett & Helfrich; CA retains a 20% stake.

New owners plan to double the 100-employee head count.

Has 8,000 to 10,000 users, many outside the U.S.

Latest open-source version, Ingres R3, is free; company charges $2,000 per processor per year for support.

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