Viper isn't scheduled to become available until sometime in 2006, but Bob Picciano, IBM's VP of database servers, talked about Viper in a keynote address at the XML 2005 Conference in Atlanta today. Customers who adopt Viper will be better able to treat a variety of types of information as a service, retrievable through one system, Picciano said.
Viper will have the ability to treat XML documents as data, retrieving specific information in them or whole documents, without going through a lengthy tear-down and rebuild process that typifies how relational database systems currently manage XML documents.
Information in XML documents can be retrieved through the XPath access method. Since the data in XML documents is hierarchical, XPath requires the name of a node at which the information is located inside the document, following a path that maps to the node's naming convention to reach it.
Viper implements an industry standard extension of XPath, called XQuery, which queries data in XML documents in a language closer to the queries used with relational databases. Both relational's SQL data access language and XQuery will be useable with Viper for retrieving XML data, Picciano said.
With both data access methods built into one database, DB2 users "will rapidly transition from conventional data management practices to unprecedented information management techniques," Piano claimed. But it's not clear whether IBM can implement such a combination with the performance sought by many DB2 users, or what learning curve SQL query writers will follow to become XQuery users.
IBM is unveiling Viper early because it already has users gaining experience in the field with Viper and it wants the larger customer base to prepare for a transition. Picciano didn't estimate what share of existing DB2 users will become Viper users, and there may remain distinctions between the two for years to come. One of the early users is Storebrand Group, a pension and life insurance manager in Oslo, Norway.
IBM said it would extend early support for DB2 Viper to the PHP development community, indicating IBM thinks Viper will find early use in pulling together the data and content being served on Web sites. The open source PHP scripting language is often used to tie databases to Web applications and tie different types of Web site operations together.