Ingres resurgent: price is right and it’s open source
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Ingres was one of the mainstream relational databases till it was bought by Computer Associates in 1994. Now, it is making a comeback as an open source option, having been purchased by a private equity firm, Garnett & Helfrich Capital. CA retains a 20% stake in the new Ingres Corporation, which was officially launched in November 2005, coincidentally on the same day Microsoft released SQL Server 2005.
“A lot of people thought the company had disappeared but CA continued to invest in the technology and made some smart and well thought-
through investments, adding high-performance features,” Burkhardt says.
“Today, Ingres is the only way you can get open source enterprise-class scalable technology. We are seeing interest in Ingres across the spectrum.”
Burkhardt says there are approximately 10,000 organisations using Ingres, the majority use it as an embedded database within CA products but 3,000 corporate users use it as a standalone database. They include heavyweights such as the French army, French railways, the US submarine fleet, UK-based Sainsburys, and the Star Alliance.
The value proposition for the new Ingres is no up-front licence fee and a subscription for maintenance and services, he says. “We are also focused on labour costs, to make people more effective. Customers tell us that database administrators are a lot more productive in the Ingres environment.”
By comparison, Oracle users get “a pretty raw deal” in terms of pricing, particularly smaller customers, he says.
At Linuxworld, held in San Francisco in August, Ingres unveiled Project Icebreaker, an integrated software maintenance unit, which the company says dramatically lowers the cost and complexity of database and operating system maintenance and support. The Ingres 2006 database is integrated with the Linux operating system, enabling a single management environment where support is provided by one point of contact and a unified maintenance stream.
“No one has done this before in the distributed environment,” Burkhardt says. “Rather than multiple instances [of maintenance], it’s one set of coordinated maintenance.
“The Linux version is also 30% of the normal size so we lose 70% of the patches and the security issues.”
Given that Ingres has been out of the mainstream for many years, would lack of Ingres skills be a problem? “It’s not a big issue,” Burkhardt says. “DBAs can do a lot of things without being aware of the specifics of a database. It’s much less of an issue than it used to be.”
To that end, Ingres will introduce a new, mostly online, technology collaboration method to enhance productivity, later this year.
The venture capital fund was set up to identify technologies that could do much better as standalone businesses, Burkhardt says. “For example, CA has 1,200 products, and Ingres was not that important to them.” Garnett & Helfrich has also bought Wyse and a network blade unit spun out of Nortel.
“Open source has gone past the early adopter phase,” he says. “Individual CIOs at banks in New York say they’ve saved more than $100 million by going open source. It’s now at the middle of the adoption curve.
“CIOs are not now going to blow off questions from the CEO or CFO who asks ‘Are we doing this?’”
“There are not too many good reasons why you shouldn’t have some exposure to the technology.”
Burkhardt says a fair number of customers are looking for an alternative to Oracle’s charges. “They don’t necessarily have anything against the technology.”
Currently, Ingres Corporation has around 260 staff. “We’ve just hired someone to lead the charge into India and China,” Burkhardt says.
In New Zealand, the company is represented by Peter Fletcher, a database industry veteran who was formerly country manager for Informix, then Australasian managing director of Sybase.
Fletcher says Ingres provides an opportunity for partners to get into a new space and use open source to deliver cost-effective solutions.
“Partners are essential to us. One benefit for them is no cost for the software and no cost until it is rolled out. All things being equal, open source should be considered on the same base as closed source these days.”
He says that, at Ingres’ peak, there were around 90 large users in New Zealand, the biggest being Fisher & Paykel. F&P Appliances and F&P Healthcare continue to use applications based on Ingres, as does shoe manufacturer and retailer Hannahs.
Fletcher says there are around 35 organisations still paying Ingres maintenance streams.
The Ingres (Interactive Graphics and Retrieval System) research project began in 1973 at UC Berkeley under the leadership of Michael Stonebraker. Its original commercial champion was Relational Technology Incorporated (RTI), founded in 1980 and renamed Ingres Corporation in the mid 1980s. Ingres was bought by Ask Computer Systems in 1990 but the company ran into financial difficulties and sold the business to Computer Associates in 1994. CA continued to develop the software and used it as the underlying database in products such as Unicenter.
Research company Ovum believes Garnett & Helfrich has invested around US$35 million (NZ$45.5 million) in the Ingres Corporation. Ovum estimates the company generates around US$30 million in revenues.
“It has had new sales during 2006 already but revenues from new sales are unlikely to become significant before Q4,” Ovum says. “A second round of venture funding is not out of the question.”