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IBM's Venerable IMS Database Gets Networking Upgrade

Information buried in it may now be accessed from any network, including the Internet's TCP/IP, without building network interfaces.

IBM has upgraded its venerable 40-year-old IMS system to make its core z Series mainframe more useful in the modern age.

Information buried in it may now be accessed from any network, including the Internet's TCP/IP, without building network interfaces, the company announced this week.

IMS is a hierarchical database system. Once the data is defined and a path set for its storage, it must remain that way; it's retrieved in exactly the form in which it went into the system. The more flexible relational database systems that now dominate the database landscape, such as Oracle 11g, Microsoft SQL Server and IBM's own DB2, do not need to be halted and reprogrammed in order to add data to a particular set, as IMS does.

But IMS still retains one advantage: the speed of "hard-wired" simplicity. That gives it the benefit of moving clearly defined transactions at a rate of 22,000 per second, a rate relational systems can't match, said IBM's mainframe software director, Jim Reed.

"Hierarchical database still has an advantage. Most of our customers have both," he said in an interview shortly after the zSummit on the IBM mainframe and its systems at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York this week. As Northwestern and Delta airlines merge, they will adopt a shared data repository based on IMS, he said.

IMS stands for Information Management System, although Don Haderle, chief architect of DB2, now retired, said IMS was originally a system created by a field development group of the IBM Storage Division to give McDonnell Douglas a way to save its inventory records on IBM disks. IMS originally stood for Inventory Management System, and it was created to sell more hardware, he said.

Although long in the tooth, IMS has been periodically upgraded because some of IBM's largest customers continue to depend on it. Last year, the company brought out IMS 10 with better XML handling capabilities and the ability to execute XQuery-based queries to retrieve small amounts of specific XML data. XML forms are constructed in a hierarchical way that lends their data to being stored in a hierarchical database.

IMS's recent upgrades have, incidentally brought both it, one of the world's oldest commercial databases, and Oracle, the world's most successful database system by revenue, up to the same version number -- 11. They've also become more direct competitors as IBM adds brings Cognos data warehousing and analysis capabilities to IMS data, as well as DB2's.

IMS 11 is starting a yearlong beta software trial with customers, and no pricing has been set. It's expected to be generally available in the fourth quarter of 2009. IMS 10 pricing is based on the size of the mainframe on which it's running; it starts at $11,000 per month.

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