Ixiasoft Speeds Access to XML Data

Vendor's TextML database is optimized for handling documents in XML format


"Ideally, we hope to get [XML databases] to be as common as SQL databases," says Ixiasoft's Philippe Gelinas.


825 Querbes Ave., Suite 200 Outremont, Quebec H2V 3XI (514) 279-4942


Niche: Native XML database that handles XML documents more efficiently than relational databases

Company officers: Francois Aird, chairman; Philippe Gelinas, co-founder and CEO; Eric Bergeron, co-founder and chief operating officer

Milestones: 1999: Founded as a subsidiary of Cedrom-SNi December 1999: Ixiasoft spun off; first product released January 2000: Received first round of funding December 2000: Received second round of funding March 2001: TextML Version 1.6 released

Employees: 39

Burn money: $6.5 million from Cedrom-SNi, Fonds d'Investissement Desjardins de Montreal, Investissement Desjardins, Shaw Ventures Inc. and Schneider Electric Ventures

Products/pricing: TextML Server, $10,000; XMetal Macros, free

Customers: American LegalNet, AT&T Corp., Rochester Gas & Electric Corp., Tribunaux Administratifs du Quebec, Council on Foreign Relations Inc. and others

Red flags for IT: It may be easier to adapt a relational database for XML use than to retrain on a new technology. TextML runs only on Windows NT and 2000 servers.

Bill Bean, vice president of business development at American LegalNet Inc., needed a high-performance database to serve up 170,000 files to more than 1 million users per month. The catch was that the Encino, Calif.-based online supplier of electronic legal forms kept its files in XML format.
After some comparison trials that pitted relational databases against the TextML native XML database from Canadian start-up Ixia Inc. (known in the U.S. as Ixiasoft), the company went with the latter. Speed tests showed that the native product was at least 30% faster.
"It's fast, and it works," says Bean, whose Web site, www.uscourtforms.com, went live in January.

Faster XML
What makes TextML faster than a relational database, says Ixiasoft CEO Philippe Gelinas, is that it keeps information in original XML documents, rather than breaking it down into pieces and storing it in tables and cells as relational databases require. That conversion step is a significant performance drain, he says. In addition, the rigidity of relational database structures makes modifications to accommodate changes in the XML document structure a complex process.
"[A native XML database] is a solid technology for managing for XML," says Nick Wilkoff, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. XML files are designed in a hierarchical fashion, which is difficult to map to a relational database's table structure, he explains.
But according to Wilkoff, the challenge for Ixiasoft is making a native XML database the preferred choice over relational databases for managing XML data. This could be a difficult idea to sell to IT departments that have a large investment in relational database infrastructure and programming skills.
Another challenge is to emerge as the industry leader in this niche. "In some ways, they are a small fish in a small pond," with a few dozen customers and a limited number of partners, Wilkoff says.
To build critical mass, the company needs to seek out integrators and content-management vendors looking for a repository architecture for XML data stores. These are the types of implementation companies from which enterprises ask for help with their XML projects, Wilkoff explains.
TextML runs on a Windows NT 4.0 or Window 2000 server. Since the product relies on some features of the Windows operating system that are hard to duplicate on Unix, support for Unix is still up in the air, Wilkoff says.
TextML functions as a black box, so developers must build an application around it so end users can retrieve XML data, says Gelinas. Ixiasoft supplies an application programming interface for developers to build those applications, based on Microsoft Corp.'s COM+. The product will also support Microsoft's .Net Web-based services initiative.
"It's an easy fit if you're already a [Microsoft] developer," Gelinas says.
The product also works with the Simple Object Access Protocol and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration business directory service, which positions TextML for use in XML Web services, he says.
Coming Soon
As more industry associations create their own XML vocabularies, Ixiasoft has an opportunity to help its customers by supporting these emerging standards, according to Bean. In his case, Bean says, he'd like the work Atlanta-based LegalXML Inc. has done developing XML standards for the legal profession to be built into TextML.
The next release will raise the limit on index size, add Unicode support to indexes for multilanguage capabilities and add data types that will allow search functions common to SQL databases, like numeric, in-range and time searches, according to Gelinas. The company is also exploring add-ons for specialty markets, such as tool kits and libraries for document management applications.
Ixiasoft's ultimate goal is to make XML databases ubiquitous, claims Gelinas. "Ideally, we hope to get them to be as common as SQL databases," he says.

The Buzz: State of the Market
Relational Resistance

Ixiasoft's strongest competition comes from traditional relational database vendors like Oracle Corp., says Forrester analyst Nick Wilkoff. IT personnel are already familiar with those companies' tools, and instead of training staff on a new technology like native XML databases, enterprises are likely to adapt their existing relational databases for use as XML repositories, he says.
Whatever the approach, IT managers will have to pick a technology strategy for managing XML data. According to Forrester's research, 18% of the Global 3,500 use XML documents regularly, and an additional 35% are involved in pilot projects or are rolling out the technology. "XML is catching on as the lingua franca for data transfer and the reuse and repurposing of content," says Wilkoff.
The challenge companies like Ixiasoft and its competitors are facing is shepherding the native XML database technology into the forefront as the industry standard for XML storage needs, explains Wilkoff.
"But it's a pretty big wall for them to have to climb over," he says.
Software AG
Darmstadt, Germany
Software AG markets its Tamino XML database to large enterprises, with a price that makes it less attractive to the midsize businesses Wilkoff says he sees as Ixiasoft's customer base. Tamino also supports a wider variety of platforms, including IBM's AIX, Linux for IBM S/390 mainframes and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris.
XML Global Technologies Inc.
Vancouver, British Columbia
XML Global focuses on integrating data within existing applications and databases by transforming it into a native XML data set. GoXML Transform includes a native XML database, GoXML DB. TextML and GoXML DB differ in their technical implementation; TextML is built around Microsoft's COM+ technology, while GoXML DB uses Java.

Johnson is a Computerworld contributing writer in Seattle.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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