Update: IBM frees DB2 Express

The software has no limits on concurrent user connections or on database size

IBM released a free version of its flagship DB2 database today, sweetening the pot by eliminating some of the key user limits imposed by rival vendors.

IBM's DB2 Universal Database Express-C is available for Linux and Windows and can run on up to two dual-core processor servers with up to 4GB of memory. The software has no limits on concurrent user connections or on database size, unlike free databases from Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. Those databases can only run on single-processor machines.

The new IBM database can be put into production use and embedded in third-party commercial software offerings and is available for download at www.ibm.com/db2/express/.

Curt Monash, a database analyst in Acton, Mass. and a Computerworld columnist, applauded IBM's release of a free DB2 that is limited by memory size, rather than the number of users or the database's size. "How much this drives the adoption of DB2 is a different matter," he said. "Every vendor, whether tradtional or open-source, has to have an essentially free low-end offering. At least it should help them propagate DB2 in mixed shops where they already have a foothold. It also should help them drive experimentation with their native XML capabilities."

But Jerry Murphy, an analyst at Westport, Conn.-based Robert Frances Group Inc., said "IBM is coming a little late here to counter what Microsoft and Oracle have already done, in terms of having a ¿free' offering that works in limited environments."

IBM first released an Express version of its DB2 software in 2003, aiming the less-expensive database software at smaller organizations willing to trade scalability restrictions for a lower price. The new, DB2 Express-C software lacks a handful of features found in DB2 Express, including DB2 Warehouse Manager tools, Informix data source replication and DB2 Connect support for extending enterprise data to applications. Customers interested in support services from IBM will also need to upgrade to one of IBM's commercial DB2 options.

DB2 Express is priced at $4,874 per CPU or $625 per server, plus $124 per named user.

The free database market is getting crowded. MySQL is a popular open-source relational database management system, and last year, Computer Associates International Inc. sold its open-source Ingres software to a new organization, Ingres Corp., which is aiming at the enterprise market.

Among the Big Three database makers, IBM is the last to release a free version. Microsoft was first out of the gate with SQL Server 2005 Express, which is limited to single-CPU Windows machines with 1GB of memory and 4GB of user data.

Oracle followed late last year with Database 10g Express Edition, which has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, a spokesperson said. Oracle's free software is capped at 4GB of user data, 1GB of memory and one CPU. Oracle officials declined to comment on whether the company would relax those restrictions.

Microsoft SQL Server Product Manager Carol Dullmeyer also declined to say whether Microsoft would allow its free version of SQL Server 2005 to support an unlimited number of users or database size, as IBM's free DB2 does. She said the number of users downloading SQL Server 2005 Express in the past three months has "exceeded our growth expectations by hundreds of thousands," but she declined to give a figure.

"Open-source and free [databases] demonstrated to us that there is an opportunity among a broader community of developers and solution providers than we had historically been reaching," said Bernie Spang, IBM's director of data server marketing.

Murphy said IBM's move would more likely affect open-source databases such as MySQL or Ingres used by smaller companies than "steal users away from Microsoft and Oracle."

But Peter Yared, CEO of ActiveGrid Inc., a San Francisco-based provider of tools for businesses using the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/Python/PHP) stack of open-source software, said that a free DB2 is a "nice blocking move" against open-source databases, which big corporations are increasingly adopting for Web server farms and similar applications for cost reasons.

"For big IBM DB2 shops, this lets them use the exact same SQL throughout their back end," said Yared, whose firm is bundling the DB2 Express version with its next software release. "For IBM, it lets them prevent other databases from getting a foothold into its accounts."

IBM previously waded into the free-database waters by open-sourcing Cloudscape, a lightweight Java database it picked up through its Informix acquisition. IBM turned Cloudscape over to the Apache Software Foundation, which now develops the software under the Derby name.

IBM plans to keep DB2 Express-C up-to-date with its latest DB2 technologies. Later this year, it will upgrade the software to introduce capabilities included in its forthcoming DB2 update, code-named "Viper," which is currently in beta testing. Viper is designed to be a hybrid data server that can handle both unstructured XML and relational data.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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