By John McCormick Print this article Print

Even before its Compaq mega-merger, HP was quick to adopt XML database products to unite distributed Web applications. But can XML vendors build a market on early adopters?

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XML Vs. Relational

But while some XML vendors claim their databases are robust enough to support most business needs, software experts agree that XML databases can't match the capabilities of established relational databases for transaction processing applications, and are better positioned as a complement to those more senior databases. Which might not bode well for the long-term viability of stand-alone XML databases. Larger relational database companies, including IBM and Oracle, are adding robust XML features to their existing products. And some analysts say today's stand-alone XML databases might not be able to stand up to the competition.

"The smaller guys might not survive," Friedman says.

For now, XML databases have some advantages over relational databases. Their data management systems, designed to handle the storage and retrieval of documents in XML, are well suited for Web services, which are mostly based on XML protocols, as well as the integration of content-rich Web sites, which increasingly use XML. (See p. 84 for a primer on native XML databases.) An XML database stores XML documents in their entirety. Storing and indexing those documents in their native form allows data to be efficiently accessed and compiled. Relational databases also can store XML data, but only in chopped-up chunks that are forced to fit into the row-and-column structure of a relational database, which makes it hard to store and retrieve XML data.

The XML market is dominated by Software AG and a handful of smaller companies, including Coherity, eXcelon, and NeoCore. According to research group International Data Corp., the XML database market generated just $45 million in sales in 2001 and will be flat this year. Sales have stalled for two reasons, according to IDC analyst Susan Funke. The first is budget tightening. The second is that buyers want to see how well relational database vendors incorporate XML features into their offerings. For instance, Release 2 of Oracle's 9i database, introduced last month, includes a repository for XML data.

The OpenView unit didn't have time to wait. Coherity says HP was looking for a Web integration solution in early 2000. The unit had scores of independent Web sites offering product information, technical support and the like. These data silos made it difficult for the OpenView unit to collect and share information about its customers. It also resulted in redundant data collection efforts and often required that customers re-enter background information whenever they visited a new OpenView Web site—a major nuisance.

Coherity's database products include tools for storing, searching, and aggregating large amounts of data. Coherity provided profile management, which allows customer data to be merged and shared, as well as authorization management, which extends directories and security systems to allow a company to control access better to restricted areas of a site. Coherity also says it linked up with the HP Passport system, which gives users a single sign-on password for accessing Web sites.

The HP project went so well that, according to Coherity's Chief Executive Officer Joe Ellsworth, the company is talking to other department managers within HP and Compaq. "They're interested," he says, declining to elaborate.

Coherity would not put a number on its HP contract, but says major product implementations can run from $500,000 to $1.5 million. Yet, Ellsworth says, companies can see a return on their investment in as little as a year as content publishing costs are lowered, customer feedback is painlessly aggregated, and data is turned into sales leads.

Coherity has found a sweet spot in Web integration. However, as the major database vendors move further into the XML camp, it's going to be hard for the native XML database vendors to find their niche.

Additional reporting by Deborah Gage

This article was originally published on 2002-06-11
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