Informix 11.7: The Beginning of the Next Decade of IBM Informix

When IBM developers set out to build the next version of Informix their goal was to build on the foundation of one of the more mature, effective and reliable pieces of information management software in the industry.  With the 10th anniversary of the IBM acquisition of Informix fast approaching, they knew that the 11.7 release would be closely watched by clients and partners alike. 

They set as their goal further reducing the overhead associated with database design and administration.   The heritage of Informix Dynamic Server has always been about making the server easier to administer.  The term "dynamic" was first used by Informix to describe the ability of the database to be reconfigured without going offline, a capability that no other database product at the time (version 7) incorporated.  The focus of the development team has continued to be on finding a way to take care of as many database tasks as possible in the software, rather than forcing administrators to spend time on them.

In addition to adding new features focused on the increasing the peace of mind that Informix offers to its users, other new features have been added to provide greater flexibility to adapt to changing business environments in the latest Informix release.  Let's take a look at what's new.

Efficiency: Less Time, More Data

Database deployment is a team sport that requires highly skilled individual players for best results.  In designing for maximum efficiency, it is therefore necessary to support both the team interactions and individual tasks that make up the day to day work for a busy database group.   Informix 11.7 team productivity is enhanced with new features such as centralized configuration management and deployment, extensions to the automated task scheduler and further automation of storage configuration and memory management.  Add those up and it's a lot less work to get an optimized database up and running, and keep it performing "in the green."

These enhancements are carried through so that they can be accessed via common opens source administrative tools based on Eclipse, Java, PHP, as well as IBM's own Visual Studio database administration environment and AGS Server Studio & Sentinel, both of which are bundled with the server.  Informix has always had a loyal user community, now it is much more accessible to anyone with a solid foundation in database concepts and skills in any of the most popular database tools.   For teams that have to manage multiple database systems, as most do, common tools are a huge time-saving convenience.

Among the specific tools tested for interoperability with Informix 11.7 are those from: Drupal, Hibernate, Geronimo, iBATIS, MediaWiki, Tomcat and XWiki. 

And, of course, Informix continues to be among the most flexible enterprise database systems in terms of the wide variety of operating systems it supports, including multiple UNIX variations, Linux, Windows, and even Mac OS X for the Apple lovers out there.

Flexibility Means Options, Not Hassles

The new Flexible Grid feature allows clients to "scale out" to increase capacity when and where needed through globally distributed clusters.   This is a significant extension of Informix's traditional strength in clustering technology such that users are longer restricted by distance, machine size or type, or the number of servers and clusters they are linking in their local, regional or global data grid.   While in the past a high level of machine homogeneity was a requirement, with Informix 11.7 users are free to mix and match between hardware types, operating systems, and versions of Informix from cluster to cluster.  That can mean a significant savings in the time, cost and hassle of having to coordinate system upgrades across a distributed set of systems.  Ultimately, it is a more flexible and realistic way to build clusters (grids) than supported by other database software.

The Informix Flexible Grid feature supports fast updates of database schemas across multiple clusters, improving response to business needs, and again helping the all important DBA leverage their time.   The new feature also adds to the ability to easily expand, contract, and manage distributed clusters from a single location, again a huge time saver for harried administrators.

Reliability Means Data is There When It's Needed

Informix has always been considered a great choice for mission-critical applications.  Part of this goes back to the strong replication and clustering technology that the software has had for many years. However, no matter how bulletproof a database server or a company's IT environment, there is always the possibility of a "black swan" event, such as hurricane.  Only offsite replication really addresses this threat to data availability.  Informix version 11.7 extends the power of the Informix replication and availability options in a platform independent environment.  New or enhanced capabilities include full support for rolling upgrades, and automated storage and memory management.  These add to existing support for automated recovery of system failures.   Again, the focus is on database practitioner efficiency.

Early adopters of Informix 11.7 are finding that it is possible to use these new features to run their shops 24x7, greatly reducing or even eliminating the need for scheduled downtime. 

"The new flexible grid capability in Informix V 11.7 lets us re-use old equipment and combine it with the use of new equipment to scale out across a grid that uses different types of hardware and operating systems. This is a real innovation that lowers our operating costs with less investment in hardware, and lets us leverage existing investments and resources," observes Hector De Santiago Ramirez, IT infrastructure manager, DHL. "The centralized administration of Informix 11.7 greatly diminishes the complexity of our highly distributed grid environment, requiring very little human resource for administration or management. We estimate 60-80% reduction in DBA time compared to previous version."

Performance Enhancements: Faster than Fast

Efficiency of administration is important, but the raw performance of the database server is also a significant factor in the overall success in most business environments.  It's no use having your DBAs working at top efficiency if your users are waiting for queries to complete.  Providing systems that are both fast and efficient means that database practitioners spend less time on database administration chores, and they also can reduce the money spent on servers and their associated space, power, cooling and even software licenses.  With this release, the Informix team pushes the performance envelope out even further, and adapts the software to function on less expensive hardware configurations.

Given the growing importance of analytics to organizations seeking to uncover business insights from their operational data, the Informix team also has worked hard to deliver faster analytic queries in this latest version.  Internal testing shows gains of up to 50% for the complex and ad hoc queries that typify the world of advanced analytics.   The developers have not forgotten the insatiable need for speed that transactional workloads drive, either.  Tests indicate that Informix 11.7 also delivers up to 10% faster transactional queries, as well. According to Hal Maner, CTO, M Systems, International Inc.,, queries are running five times faster now with Informix 11.7, compared to the other database the company was using.

Lowering the Cost of Providing Data

For many existing Informix customers the biggest reason to consider the upgrade to the new version will be the cost savings that the enhancements may provide.  Higher performance is always linked to cost savings.  Faster database performance means potentially fewer hardware servers for a given load.  This cascades through the entire data lifecycle to provide savings in space, power, cooling, and archives. 

The new Flexible Grid feature also potentially offers a way for budget-challenged IT departments to do more with existing or surplus equipment.   Traditionally, the requirement that most vendors have that every node in a database cluster be identical has meant heavy costs to upgrade or extend the enterprise data architecture.   Finally, the improved automated management of system resources by the database portends the beginning of the end of over-provisioning as a form of insurance.

One other factor helping to hold costs down are the packaging changes that IBM implemented as part of the 11.7 release.  Many add-ons for Informix are now bundled with the product.   The two most significant of these are the Time Series capability, which permits nearly instantaneous acquisition of data from feeds such as market tickers and smart meters, and IBM Mashup Center, which is IBM's solution for building "no-code" composite applications that include data from multiple sources.   Even shops not planning on using these features will find that the simplified packaging results in lower license cost for many clients.

"Oncor is committed to improving energy efficiency by adopting the latest digital technologies providing smart metering solutions to our customers. Our major challenges are significant storage and performance requirements in managing the data collected by the smart meters. With Informix and its native support for time series data, we have solved both of these problems. Our testing has shown that with an Informix-based solution we were able to reduce the storage requirements by two-thirds and speed the query performance up to 60 times compared to the existing solution," notes Donny Helm, the company's director of technology, strategy, and architecture.

Adding up the enhancements in efficiency, performance and the innovative Flexible Grid feature, it is easy to see that the designers and developers have continued to evolve this product along the axis of reliable and pain-free data provisioning.  The enhancements in automation and the increased number of options for configuring for high availability demonstrate why Informix continues to be the choice for many hardware vendors who need database software that can run fully embedded in a hardware device, as well as data architects looking for a low-overhead, highly available database solution. 

 IBM Informix: The Next Decade

By continuing to invest in Informix, IBM demonstrates the strategic importance that the product plays as a part of the IBM Information Management portfolio.  The Informix acquisition in 2001 was the first large acquisition that IBM completed in the information management space.  Lessons learned in the integration of both the products and the team were critical to enabling the fast pace of acquisitions that IBM undertook as the decade progressed, including segment-leading companies such as Ascential Software in the information integration space, FileNet in the content management area, and Cognos and SPSS in the business intelligence and advanced analytics markets.   

Clients affected by these acquisitions have been reassured by the sustained commitment that IBM has made to Informix in the last decade, culminating in this release.  If Informix 11.7 is any indication, there are many more chapters still to be written in the IBM Informix story.