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Software AG looks to capitalize on Web services

Software AG looks to capitalize on Web services

Software AG, the dominant XML database company, maintained its number one position in the market and even managed to show a small operating profit for the first half of 2002. By incorporating support for the Web services standards stack into its Tamino product, it hopes to rise with the SOAP bubble.

Context: Software AG was founded in 1969 by entrepreneurial mathematicians, making it one of the earliest hardware-independent software vendors. Its four main products are a high-performance database, Adabas; an integration software stack, EntireX; a 4GL, Natural; and Tamino, its native XML database.

The company went public in 1999 and is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange's MDax. Revenues were down for the first half of 2002, but by keeping a tight rein on costs, the company managed to show an $11.5m operating profit. Software AG's 3,200 employees work in 70 countries, but 1,300 are based in the company's native Germany. Most research and development takes place there, but some is carried out in the USA, the UK and Ireland.

Technology: Like its competitors, Tamino stores XML documents natively, eliminating the overhead associated with conversion between formats. An X-Query service – not to be confused with the XQuery standard proposal before the W3C – implements extended Xpath semantics to handle groups of documents.

If a query returns multiple documents or document fragments, the resulting XML document would not be considered well formed, because an XML document is supposed to have exactly one root. Tamino uses its proprietary X-Query to get around the problem by wrapping the result set in an artificial root element. (That said, Tamino's developers intend to provide full support for the XQuery W3C standard as well.)

Tamino also sports the obligatory full-text retrieval service. The database supports both well-formed and valid XML – that is, documents that don't adhere to any specific schema and documents that do adhere to such a schema. Documents are grouped into collections, in which several document types can be declared. A given document must match the schema of the document type assigned to it, but if it contains elements or attributes not modeled in the schema, it can be still stored without being matched to a particular schema.

Server extensions can be written using Tamino's X-Tension service. These extensions become user-defined function plug-ins for Tamino. A typical user-defined function handles data in some specific way that Tamino's standard functions didn't anticipate. Once they are plugged in, you can't distinguish between these extensions and Tamino's standard functions. You can write extensions in C, C++ or Java.

That group of features constitutes the core of Tamino. Beyond it are a group of enabling services. An X-Node service provides access to non-XML data stores, such as Adabas or Oracle. An integration service harnesses the power of an integration technology such as EntireX.

Tamino's design lends itself to use as a public or private UDDI registry; a UDDI implementation is built in. A BizTalk service is designed to work around the inconvenient fact that Microsoft's BizTalk stores XML documents in hexadecimal format in a single SQL field in SQL Server. EJB, synchronization, X-Application and WebDAV services round out the enabling layer.

Customers: Senior product manager Eric Scholz estimates that there are over 500 Tamino customers, giving Software AG the clear lead in native XML databases. Germany remains a huge market. Customers there include Mercedes, Novartis, banks, chemical companies and TV networks. Tamino is mostly sold directly, but Software AG recently struck an important deal with content management vendor Stellant. Other technology partners include Savvion, SoftQuad and Tibco. As the dominant player in the market, Software AG is ideally placed to identify the best uses for a native XML database. It turns out that Tamino excels in four particular areas. It's a great back end for companies interested in assembling dynamic content for their Web applications. It's useful for content management. With its SOAP, WSDL and UDDI support, it's poised to play a role in Web services. And finally, it's a good portal or staging server for wireless devices that need to access information in an enterprise IT infrastructure.

Competition: Software AG accounts for almost half the native XML database market. Its closest competitor, eXcelon, trails with less than 20%, leaving the smaller vendors to fight it out for the remainder. However, Scholz emphasizes that Tamino goes head-to-head with DB2, Oracle and SQL Server every day.

"For political reasons, people often go with the big suites," Scholz said. "Very often people don't want to take the risk" on a company that is not IBM, Oracle or Microsoft. Software AG must find a way to sell Tamino as a necessary complement to existing data stores.

The451 assessment: The German software superstar has produced a competent native XML database in Tamino, and deserves its dominant market position. It's far too soon for complacency, however. IBM, Microsoft and Oracle want to adapt their relational technology to XML uses, though it's a bit of a stretch. On the native XML side, eXcelon, Ipedo, Ixiasoft and Neocore would love to gain ground on Tamino. So a misstep in standards support or sales by Software AG could give Microsoft or eXcelon the opening they need.

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