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Does software life begin at 40? IBM updates IMS database

Mainframe transaction software still popular among very large companies

By Eric Lai
October 9, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - IBM later this month plans to release Version 10 of its Information Management System (IMS), a 39-year-old database originally built to help land men on the moon.

IMS is a combination hierarchical database and transaction system that runs only on IBM's zSeries line of mainframe computers (formerly called System/390).

IMS, which stores data in a tree structure rather than in the tables used in relational databases, was first used in 1968 for the NASA's Apollo space program.

The conventional wisdom is that the long-term usage of IMS is slowly dwindling, though some champions of the software heartily dispute that.

IMS, according to a blog post earlier this year by database analyst Curt Monash, is one of the several niche databases that are "fine things to stick with until you have to change."

Bernie Spang, director of data servers at IBM, added that the database remains vigorous despite its age. It still runs in the back rooms of over 95% of Fortune 1,000 companies, and, Spang claimed, 80% of large retail banks in the United States, Germany and Japan.

Spang said that IMS's year-over-year sales growth today is also higher than the 2% rate reported in 2003 by then-IBM database chief Janet Perna, though he declined to be specific. He also said that IBM's customers upgraded to Version 9 of IMS, released in October 2004, faster than they upgraded to previous versions.

Despite the fact that it has a large, diverse portfolio of database products that includes the DB2 Informix and U2 lines, IBM continues to invest in and market IMS as its best high-transaction data processing solution, Spang said.

For software, age 40 "could be the new 20," Spang said. "We've seen the first 40 years of IMS, now let's see what next 40 will be like."
 
Because of its high-transaction competence, IMS is used by many large package-tracking companies, automakers and insurance companies, he said. For instance, Spang said there's a bank that transfers $3 billion a day using IMS. And one package-tracking firm, which he declined to identify, handles 100 million transactions a day using the database.

Version 10, which will start shipping on Oct. 26, focuses on strengthening the software's service-oriented architecture (SOA) features. They include new support for XQuery and enhanced support for XML and Web services, broader XML and Java tooling to encourage new application development, and enhanced database recovery control.

IBM offers IMS only through leasing programs. Pricing starts at $9,000 a month, a spokeswoman said. That excludes the cost of the zSeries server it runs on; IBM declined to reveal pricing for the zSeries server.

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