ANTS updates database, touts increased transaction speeds

Version 3.4 adds compatibility with the MySQL and Informix databases

A California software company is offering a database using 1980s-era supercomputing technology that it claims tops conventional relational databases in speed and price.

Executives at Burlingame, Calif.-based Ants Software Inc. said the company's approach avoids the need to lock rows of data, as most databases do, while maintaining data integrity. That enables increased transaction speeds, especially in online transaction processing (OLTP) environments where bottlenecks may occur when many users try to read or write to the same data fields at the same time.

"Everybody else's database is based on refinements to '70s and '80s database technology," said Ken Ruotolo, chief financial officer of Burlingame, Calif.-based Ants. "We come at it from a very different angle."

Version 3.4 of Ants Data Server announced today adds compatibility with the MySQL and Informix databases. The software was already compatible with the data types, functions and SQL extensions of popular databases such as Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server, Sybase and Oracle's recently acquired TimesTen in-memory database. That makes it easy for prospective customers to migrate to Ants Data Server, said Ruotolo.

Ants was originally founded in the 1980s as a parallel supercomputing company. After that market died, the company lay dormant for more than a decade before being restarted in 1999 by investors who pumped in $33 million to reapply the company's patents toward a database product.

Ants began selling its database late last year, and sales remain small. In its most recent quarter ending June 30, the company had just $135,000 in sales, with $1.98 million in losses.

Today it has 13 customers. Telecom giant Sprint Nextel Corp. is using an Ants database to power a mission-critical Short Message Service that processes 800 transactions per second and up to 15 million transactions per day. And an unnamed financial services customer plans to use Ants for a database with 90 million records and 1,200 users, according to Ants.

Grupo S&C, a large systems integrator in Mexico, has been using Ants Data Server since January to provide two hosted services. For one service, an enterprise content management system aimed at county governments, Grupo S&C migrated from an Oracle 9i database to the Ants software in a week. The Ants Data Server now processes 200,000 transactions a day.

"It runs quite better," said Juan Ramos, vice president of technology at Grupo S&C. "It's not less stable, and it's 50% cheaper than what we would have paid with Oracle."

Grupo S&C also runs an outsourced payroll system that processes bimonthly paychecks for 30,000 employees.

"Everyone wants to get paid at the same time. We were getting about 300,000 transactions in two hours. And we were having locking problems," Ramos said. Switching to Ants "made it completely better."

Each of Grupo's two Ants servers runs on a dual-processor 3.1-GHz Xeon system with 2GB of RAM. They share a MicroAppliance disk array connected via a storage-area network.

Two analysts agreed that the Ants approach is unique, though they disagreed about its prospects.

Philip Howard, a database analyst at U.K.-based Bloor Research, called Ants, which only rarely requires heavily accessed data fields to be locked, a "pretty revolutionary" advance over conventional databases, such as Oracle, IBM's DB2 and Microsoft's SQL Server, which all added row-level locking five to 10 years ago.

Row-level locking "is not a big issue in more static data warehouses. It's not a big deal with databases mostly focused on queries and analysis, where there are no contention problems on updating data," Howard said. But it can impose "a real performance constraint" in OLTP environments, where he thinks database administrators are most likely to embrace the Ants technology.

But Curt Monash, a database management consultant in Acton, Mass., and a Computerworld columnist, said that OLTP users tend to be conservative in adopting technology because they are reluctant to tamper with mission-critical databases. "Even if the technology does all that Ants claims, it's going to be hard for them," he said.

Monash, who had not been briefed by Ants officials, also said that except for fast-changing databases speed increases probably would be minimal. "It seems to be a rather specialized benefit," he said. "Most customers would just rather throw hardware at the problem."

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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