Informix Corporation was a software company located in Menlo Park, California. It was a developer of relational database software for computers using the Unix, Microsoft Windows, and Apple Macintosh operating systems.
|Fate||Purchased by IBM|
|Founder||Roger J. Sippl |
Major Events Timeline
In 1998, Informix acquired Red Brick Systems, founded by Ralph Kimball, a data warehouse database company.
In 2000, Informix acquired Ardent, a data management company.
In 2001, Informix sold its database subsidiary, Informix Software, to IBM, and renamed itself Ascential Software.
Detailed History of Key Product Lines and Acquisitions
Informix Software was a software company which sold database products, desktop software and development tools, and information integration products from 1980 until 2005, becoming approximately a $1 billion company in the process. The company was active in the Unix, PC, Linux and Macintosh markets, and grew through both organic development and acquisitions. Its best known products were the Informix databases, of which there were several different families. Other well known products included a development environment called 4GL, a spreadsheet called Wingz, and a data warehouse oriented database system called Redbrick, and the Ascential information integration family of products.
The Informix brand and database products were acquired by IBM in 2001, and several of the most popular products remain in market and are continuing to be enhanced by IBM. For information on the current Informix branded database software products see the article IBM Informix.
At the time of the acquisition of Informix by IBM a smaller spin-off company was created, Ascential Software, focused on the information integration and ETL markets. Ascential Software was later acquired by IBM as well, in 2005.
Founding and Early history
Founders Roger Sippl and Laura King worked at Cromemco, an early S-100/CP/M company, where they developed a small relational database based on ISAM techniques, as a part of a report-writer software package. Sippl and King left Cromemco to found Relational Database Systems (RDS) in 1980. Their first product, Marathon, was essentially a 16-bit version of their earlier ISAM work, made available first on the C8000 from Onyx Systems.
At RDS, they turned their attention to the emerging RDBMS market and released their own product as Informix (INFORMation on unIX) in 1981. It included their own Informer language. It featured the ACE report writer, used to extract data from the database and present it to users for easy reading. It also featured the PERFORM screen form tool, which allowed a user to interactively query and edit the data in the database. The final release of this product was version 3.30 in early 1986.
In 1985, they introduced a new SQL-based query engine as part of INFORMIX-SQL (or ISQL) version 1.10 (version 1.00 was never released). This product also included SQL variants of ACE and PERFORM. The most significant difference between ISQL and the previous Informix product was the separation of the database access code into an engine process (sqlexec), rather than embedding it directly in the client — thus setting the stage for client-server computing, with the database running on a separate machine from the user's machine. The underlying ISAM-based file storage engine was known as C-ISAM.
Through the early 1980s Informix remained a small player, but as Unix and SQL grew in popularity during the mid-1980s, their fortunes changed. By 1986 they had become large enough to float a successful IPO, and changed the company name to Informix Software. The products included INFORMIX-SQL version 2.00 and INFORMIX-4GL 1.00, both of which included the database engine as well as development tools (I4GL for programmers, ISQL for non-programmers). A series of releases followed, including a new query engine, initially known as INFORMIX-Turbo. Turbo used the new RSAM, with great multi-user performance benefits over C-ISAM.
With the release of the version 4.00 products in 1989, Turbo was renamed INFORMIX-OnLine (in part because it permitted coherent database backups while the server was online and users were modifying the data), and the original server based on C-ISAM was separated from the tools (ISQL and I4GL) and named INFORMIX-SE (Standard Engine). Version 5.00 of Informix OnLine was released at the very end of 1990, and included full distributed transaction support with two-phase commit and stored procedures. Version 5.01 was released with support for triggers too.
Innovative Software Acquisition
In 1988, Informix purchased Innovative Software, makers of a DOS and Unix-based office system called SmartWare and WingZ, a spreadsheet program for the Apple Macintosh.
WingZ provided a graphical user interface, supported larger, 32768x32768 dimension spreadsheets, and offered programming in a HyperCard-like language known as HyperScript. The original release proved successful, becoming the number two spreadsheet, behind Microsoft Excel. In 1990, WingZ ports started appearing for a number of other platforms, mostly Unix variants. During this period, many financial institutions began investing in Unix workstations as a route to increasing the desktop "grunt" required to run large financial models. For a brief period[not specific enough to verify], Wingz was successfully marketed into this niche. However it suffered from a lack of development and marketing resources. By the early 1990s WingZ had become uncompetitive, and Informix eventually sold it in 1995. Informix also sold a license to Claris, who combined it with a rather updated GUI as Claris Resolve.
Dynamic Scalable Architecture
With its failure in office automation products, Informix refocused on the growing database server market. In 1994, as part of a collaboration with Sequent Computer Systems, Informix released its version 6.00 database server, which featured its new Dynamic Scalable Architecture, DSA.
DSA involved a major rework of the core engine of the product, supporting both horizontal parallelism and vertical parallelism, and based on a multi-threaded core well suited towards the symmetric multiprocessing systems that Sequent pioneered and that major vendors like Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard would eventually follow up on. The two forms of parallelism made the product capable of market-leading levels of scalability, both for OLTP and data warehousing.
Now known as Informix Dynamic Server (after briefly entertaining the name Obsidian and then being named Informix OnLine Dynamic Server), Version 7 hit the market in 1994. Version 7 consistently won performance benchmarks.
Building on the success of Version 7, Informix split its core database development investment into two efforts. One effort, first known as XMP (for eXtended Multi-Processing), became the Version 8 product line, also known as XPS (for eXtended Parallel Server). This effort focused on enhancements in data warehousing and parallelism in high-end platforms, including shared-nothing platforms such as IBM's RS-6000/SP.
The second focus, which followed the late 1995 purchase of Illustra, concentrated on object-relational database (O-R) technology. Illustra, written by ex-Postgres team members and led by database pioneer Michael Stonebraker, included various features that allowed it to return fully formed objects directly from the database, a feature that can significantly reduce programming time in many projects. Illustra also included a feature known as DataBlades that allowed new data types and features to be included in the basic server as options. These included solutions to a number of thorny SQL problems, namely time series, spatial and multimedia data. Informix integrated Illustra's O-R mapping and DataBlades into the 7.x OnLine product, resulting in Informix Universal Server (IUS), or more generally, Version 9.
Both new versions, V8 (XPS) and V9 (IUS), appeared on the market in 1996, making Informix the first of the "big three" database companies (the others being Oracle and Sybase) to offer built-in O-R support. Commentators paid particular attention to the DataBlades, which soon became very popular: dozens appeared within a year, ported to the new architecture after partnerships with Illustra. This left other vendors scrambling, with Oracle introducing a "grafted on" package for time-series support in 1997, and Sybase turning to a third party for an external package which remains an unconvincing solution.
A Billboard Taunting Oracle
In 1997 Informix purchased a billboard on the interstate across from Oracle's headquarters in Redwood City, CA. The billboard read "Dinosaur Crossing", a tongue-in-cheek jab at Oracle's supposed lagging state in the industry.
Although Informix took a technological lead in the database software market, product releases began to fall behind schedule by late 1996. Plagued with technical and marketing problems, a new application development product, Informix-NewEra, was soon overshadowed by the emerging Java programming language. Michael Stonebraker had promised that the Illustra technology would be integrated within a year after the late 1995 acquisition, but as Gartner Group had predicted, the integration required more than 2 years.
Unhappy with the new direction of the company, XPS lead architect Gary Kelley suddenly resigned and joined arch-rival Oracle Corporation in early 1997, taking 11 of his developers with him. Informix ultimately sued Oracle to prevent loss of trade secrets. As part of a formal settlement negotiated between the two companies, the lawsuit was withdrawn and Informix issued a statement retracting their accusations against the former employees. Other details of the settlement were not made public.
Misgovernance and Executive Wrongdoing
Corporate misgovernance overshadowed Informix's technical successes. On April 1, 1997, Informix announced that first quarter revenues fell short of expectations by $100 million. CEO Phillip White blamed the shortfall on a loss of focus on the core database business while devoting too many resources to object-relational technology.
Huge operating losses and job cuts followed. Informix re-stated earnings from 1994 through 1996. A significant amount of revenue from the mid-1990s involved software license sales to partners who did not sell through to an end-user customer; this and other irregularities led to overstating revenue by over $200 million. Even after White's departure in July, 1997, the company continued to struggle with accounting practices, re-stating earnings again in early 1998.
New Leaders and Renewed Success
The capabilities of Informix Dynamic Server (IDS) began to strengthen. New leadership began to emerge as well. An excerpt from the September 22, 1998 issue of PC Magazine's article on the top 100 companies that are changing the way you compute:
- "Informix is battling rival Oracle in the object/relational arena by extending its flagship Informix Dynamic Server with a Universal Data Option. After a turbulent year that included a problematic audit, Robert Finnocchio was appointed as the new CEO of the Menlo Park, California company. With 1997 revenues of $662.3 million, Informix has begun to strengthen its position in the database market."
Phil White Indicted and Pleads Guilty
In November 2002, Phillip White, the former CEO of Informix ousted in 1997, was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with eight counts of securities, wire, and mail fraud. In a plea bargain thirteen months later, he pleaded guilty to a single count of filing a false registration statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In May 2004, the Department of Justice announced that White was sentenced to two months in federal prison for securities fraud, with a fine of $10,000, two years of supervised release, and 300 hours of community service. The announcement noted that the loss to shareholders caused by the violation could not reasonably be estimated under the facts of the case. White's earlier plea agreement had limited prison time to no more than 12 months.
Walter Königseder, the company's vice president in charge of European operations, was also indicted by a federal grand jury. However, he was a citizen and resident of Germany, and the United States was unable to secure his extradition.
In November 2005, Steve W. Martin, a longtime Informix employee, published a book detailing the rise and fall of Informix Software and CEO Phil White, titled The Real Story of Informix Software and Phil White: Lessons in Business and Leadership for the Executive Team.
Informix acquires Ardent Software
In March 2000, Informix acquired Ardent Software, a company with a history of mergers and acquisitions. That acquisition gave Informix the legacy MultiValue database platforms UniVerse and UniData, known collectively as U2 (now Rocket U2), as well as a small but growing set of Extract Transform and Load (ETL) and other information integration products, the latter were the target of the acquisition being well positioned in a fast-growing market segment.
In July 2000, the former CEO of Ardent, Peter Gyenes, became the CEO of Informix, and soon re-organized Informix to make it more attractive as an acquisition target. The major step was separating the database engine technologies from the recently acquired Ardent Software ETL and Information Integration products.
Informix Divests: Acquisition of the Informix Database Business by IBM
In April 2001, IBM negotiated with Informix to buy the core database business. Prompted by a suggestion from Wal-Mart, one of Informix's largest customers, IBM bought from Informix the database technology, the brand, the plans for future development (an internal project codenamed "Arrowhead"), and the customer base (over 100,000 customers) associated with these items. The deal closed on July 1, 2001. Approximately 2,000 Informix employees moved to IBM as part of the deal.
Informix renames itself Ascential and moves into ETL business
Informix shareholders approved this deal, which delivered $1 billion in cash to the much smaller remaining company, which intended to focus on the high growth ETL and information integration space, dominated at the time by Informatica. The company renamed itself Ascential Software, and continued to be led by CEO Peter Geyenes and President Peter Fiore.
Ascential Software made use of its large cash holdings from the Informix sale to buy a number of smaller companies with technology. Many were had at bargain prices as the software industry was caught up in the economic slump following the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks.
Despite these acquisitions Ascential was not able to ever come anywhere near matching the financial performance of Informix prior to the sale, and were eventually forced to perform a 4 for 1 reverse stock split to ensure that the stock was not delisted from NASDAQ for falling below the minimum share price.
IBM buys Ascential
In May 2005, IBM bought Ascential, reuniting all of Informix's assets under IBM's Information Management Software portfolio. The deal paid Ascential shareholders $1.1 billion, however IBM assumed control of $481 million in cash that Ascential had retained from the Informix sale. Shareholders received $18.50 a share, a 15% premium over the previous close of $15.70. Shareholders who had held on from the Informix era did not fare so well, after accounting for the reverse split the deal netted them only $4.62 a share, far less than the price before IBM's first acquisition, which had hovered a bit over $7.00 through March 2001.
Prior to its purchase, Informix's product lineup included:
- Informix C-ISAM - the latest version of the original Marathon database
- Informix Standard Engine (SE) - offered as a low-end system for embedding into applications
- Informix OnLine(Online 5)- a competent system for managing medium size databases
- Informix Dynamic Server(IDS, V7)- the product from which V9, V10 and V11 directly descended.)
- Informix Extended Parallel Server (XPS, V8) - a high-end version based on V7 code base for use on clusters and MPP machines. Focused on Data Warehouse workloads, but with full OLTP capability.
- Informix Universal Server (V9) - a combination of the V7 OnLine engine with the O-R mapping and DataBlade support from Illustra. The basis for V10 and V11
- Informix-4GL - A fourth generation language for application programming
- Red Brick Warehouse - a data warehouse product
- Cloudscape - an RDBMS written entirely in Java that fits into mobile devices on the low-end and J2EE-based architectures on the high end. In 2004 Cloudscape was released by IBM as an Open Source database to be managed by the Apache Software Foundation under the name Derby.
- U2 suite, UniVerse and UniData - MultiValue databases that offer networks, hierarchies, arrays and other data formats difficult to model in SQL
- International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 30, p. 243. Referenced in "History of Informix Corporation – FundingUniverse". "Originally named Relational Database Systems Inc., this software company was founded by 25-year-old entrepreneur Roger J. Sippl. ... In 1980 Sippl invested $200,000 in the new company and became its president, chief executive officer, and chairman."
- "S&P Stock Reports: Informix Corp.". 13-MAY-97 "In February 1996, IFMX acquired Illustra Information Technologies, a provider of object-relational database systems and tools."
- "Hollow Words / Federal prosecutors say white-collar crime is a priority, but they have filed only a few charges against Silicon Valley executives - SFGate", November 16, 1999 "charges of accounting fraud and illegal insider trading derailed [Informix] in 1997"
- "IBM News room - 2001-04-24 IBM and Informix Corp. Sign Agreement for Sale of Informix Database Business to IBM - United States" "24 Apr 2001: IBM and Informix® Corporation (Nasdaq: IFMX) today announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement for IBM to acquire the assets of Informix Software -- Informix's database business -- in a cash transaction valued at $1 billion. ... Upon the closing of the transaction, Informix Corporation will be renamed Ascential Software."
- "IBM Acquires Ascential Software - Information Management Online Article" "Monday, March 14, 2005, IBM announced an agreement to acquire Ascential Software Corp. in a cash transaction for approximately $1.1 billion, or $18.50 per share."
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