LJ Interviews Informix's Janet Smith

by Marjorie Richardson

Janet Smith is the Director of the Linux Business Unit for Informix Software, Inc. Her responsibilities include implementing marketing strategies as well as providing solutions to product and strategic issues concerning Linux. At Informix, prior to being promoted to the Linux Business Unit, Janet held the positions of Program Manager and Senior Development Manager in Product Development. She was the Engineering Manager responsible for the first enterprise-ready database to be ported to Linux.

After graduating with a BS degree in Accounting from the University of Florida, Smith began her career with Arthur Andersen & Co. She joined Tandem Computers in 1989 and held postions in Product Management and Technical Support until 1994, when she joined Informix. Janet lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Clark, and their little boss: daughter, Veronica.

I talked to Janet by e-mail in November 1998 to discuss Linux and Informix.

Marjorie: What event first brought Linux to your attention?

Janet: It was a response from our users, rather than an event, that brought Linux to our attention. Our users, organized as the Informix International User Group, make up an incredible collection of technical and business experts. They know the capabilities of Informix products better than anyone in the world, and we listen to their suggestions and respond to their requests.

Our users demanded the marriage of the efficient, feature-rich, “stealth” Linux operating system and the scalability, performance and extensibility of Informix database options. We delivered our first Linux products, INFORMIX-SE and INFORMIX-ESQL/C, in July at the Informix Worldwide User Conference. The response has been overwhelming.

Marjorie: What sort of evaluation procedures did you use to decide to support Linux?

Janet: User demand drove our investment in Linux. We spoke with a number of Linux users and a number of Informix users who were considering the Linux OS. We came away with a strong understanding of three things:

  • The Linux market is growing very rapidly.

  • The Linux market needs a robust, high-performance, feature-rich database.

  • Informix has unique advantages that make it a perfect choice for the Linux community.

We saw a tremendous opportunity and we moved quickly to provide the first commercial database on Linux with our SE offering.

Marjorie: What advantages do you see in having products that support Linux?

Janet: First, it is important to understand that one of Informix's core business strategies is developing strong partnerships. We have long-standing relationships with our world-class VARs, ISVs, distributors, hardware partners and customers. Businesses rely on applications built on technology from Informix.

Linux allows our partners to move into new markets and provides a significantly lower invoice cost for delivering solutions to customers. In addition to being a “no-cost” operating system, it also provides for the excellent reuse of hardware. This opens up opportunities and allows our partners to move their solutions into new industries and markets—markets that Microsoft simply doesn't address.

The growth of the Linux OS appears to cut across nearly every vertical market, and it is gaining acceptance through every layer of the IT infrastructure. Whether you are developing or deploying, the customer or the vendor, the VAR or the hardware vendor, everybody wins. Linux is revolutionizing our industry.

Marjorie: What are the disadvantages?

Janet: Linux has tremendous momentum right now, and the challenge is to be able to quickly respond to changes within the Linux community. There is still some standardization necessary to create a truly ubiquitous operating environment. As the first commercial vendor to deliver product on Linux, we had to work through some of those issues. Informix supports the efforts of the Linux Standards Board (LSB) and we know the Linux community is completely committed to meeting their current standards of excellence today and in the future.

Marjorie: What do you find most attractive about Linux?

Janet: The total cost of ownership is clearly one of the drivers within this market. Linux allows a much larger range of applications to be built at a much lower cost than previously imagined. Users and developers are looking for an alternative to Windows NT.

Marjorie: How do you compare Linux with other operating systems?

Janet: The acceptance of Linux is so rapid and the passion of the community so high that the same enterprise-wide tests available on other operating systems will soon benefit Linux. In general, we have found Linux to be as reliable as other UNIX platforms.

Marjorie: What other platforms do you support?

Janet: Informix products are available on UNIX, NT and Linux. Informix supports all major UNIX platforms including Sun, HP, SGI, Sequent, IBM, Compaq/DEC, Compaq/Tandem, SNI, UNIXware, Data General, Intel Solaris, NEC, Fujitsu, NCR and Hitachi.

Marjorie: Do you plan to support Linux with all your products? If not, why not?

Janet: It is clear the Linux market needs Informix solutions, and we are committed to the Linux platform. We plan on supporting Linux by providing the Informix technology that addresses the needs of the market. Our web site, as well as our Informix Developer Network, describes solutions that benefit the Linux community. We will continue to make specific announcements regarding our plans for delivering additional products on Linux.

Marjorie: Tell us about the products you have ported to Linux and why you chose to port them to Linux first.

Janet: INFORMIX-SE and INFORMIX-ESQL/C are our first entrants into Linux, because both are well-known and widely supported by our VARs and ISVs. INFORMIX-SE is an enterprise database that is extremely fast, has a small footprint, is easily embedded and requires virtually no configuration or management.

Linux developers are able to embed INFORMIX-SE as part of their applications without requiring their customers to hire a DBA to maintain and support the deployed application. It enables current INFORMIX-SE developers to deploy their applications on Linux and take advantage of Linux and the Apache Web Server. INFORMIX-SE is a fabulous fit of a high-performance database with a low-cost, low-maintenance web server.

INFORMIX-ESQL/C on Linux is for C developers building applications to access an Informix database on any platform, including Linux. INFORMIX-ESQL/C on Linux also enables developers with existing applications to easily port them to Linux. It provides the convenience of entering SQL statements directly into the C language source code. Developers can use SQL to issue commands to the Informix server and to manage the result sets of data from queries. INFORMIX-ESQL/C provides low-level control over the application for session management and error handling and gives the developer direct access to all database functions. INFORMIX-ESQL/C requires significantly less coding and is easier, faster, more productive and less error-prone than low-level direct calls to libraries.

Marjorie: Have you considered making any of your products Open Source?

Janet: Informix is committed to increasing developer participation in our products and allowing developers to add value. So, we are looking at Open Source and trying to understand which products might be appropriate within that model. It is important to remember that Informix is already the most open database available. Though not truly open source, our APIs give developers powerful ways to extend the functionality of the database. We think that meets the needs of the market today.

Marjorie: What do you think needs to be added to Linux to make it more attractive to business users?

Janet: The availability of applications is what will drive Linux in the business community. We are committed to working with our partners, VARs and ISVs to make their applications available on Linux quickly.

Marjorie: Linux seems to be climbing rapidly in popularity with all the PR it has gotten recently. How long do you expect that to last?

Janet: The growth rates posted are quite impressive, and prove Linux is not a fad. The recent PR will only fuel the fire. We think Linux is here to stay.

Marjorie: What do you see in the future for your company and Linux?

Janet: The future for Informix and Linux is not only prosperous, but also fun. We've just entered the Database Software Olympics and the Linux community bestows the medals. Technology is the Informix playing field, the games have begun, and we are going for gold.

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