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‘Father of DB2’ Don Haderle Looks Back—and to the Future

IBM Fellow Don Haderle was instrumental in developing DB2 technology 30 years ago. — Photo by Gary Parker

ISM: What is the origin of the DB2 name?
IMS DL/I was IBM’s first database—hence, DB ONE. There was a contest—I was heads down on the technical stuff—and the marketing folks came up with DB2.

ISM: How did it revolutionize databases?
The revolution was a single database and the relational model, for transactions and business intelligence.

ISM: At the time, did your team realize the impact DB2 would have?
Did we think it would last for 30 years? We were hopeful, but first we needed to ensure the long-term survival of the mainframe and port DB2 to open systems platforms, like UNIX*, on IBM and non-IBM hardware. But that is a longer story.

ISM: Though it launched in 1983, you point to 1988 and DB2 V2 as a seminal point in its development. Why?
In 1988, DB2 V2 proved it was viable for online transactional processing [OLTP], which was the lifeblood of business computing. It had already proven its capability to perform analytical queries, but 1988 made it viable for the heart of business processing —OLTP. At that point, it could yield adequate performance metrics—transactions per second—though it was still more expense in compute cost vis-à-vis IMS DL/I, but Moore’s Law would continue to narrow that gap.

ISM: What has been the lasting impact of DB2 at IBM?
DB2 was key to establishing the IBM software business and making IBM an overall solution provider—hardware, software, services. As I said earlier, IBM was a hardware company in the 1970s and the software was sponsored by the hardware businesses to support their platforms. We reported to our respective hardware executives.

DB2’s early success, coupled with IBM WebSphere* in the 1990s, led the transformation of the business and engendered the investments that made that happen. Thus the survival of DB2 is a product of the completeness and competitiveness of the IBM software portfolio, not just the excellence of DB2 itself.

ISM: Looking back, what’s been the most surprising use for DB2?
When you say “surprising,” I tend to think of applications—the moon launch, open-heart surgery or some other gee-whiz application. The closest thing for DB2 was the database system for the Olympics for several games [the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano] when there was extreme pressure on performance and any failure was visible to the world. What made that a pressure moment was that as soon as the game was played, the race was run and the scores were posted, it was immediately available to all the press around the world. If they didn’t have the information immediately after the event—and there were hundreds of thousands of queries done on this thing—then we had egg all over our faces.

ISM: Where do you see DB2 in 30 years?
In the same position as today—a vital database infrastructure for core business processing within enterprises. While there’s another business need being addressed by NOSQL and NEWSQL databases that will evolve, DB2 will serve the basic business transactions and business intelligence as it does today, evolving to respond to the big data business needs that demand aggregation of data within and outside the enterprise in surprising volumes with surprising velocity.

“Father of DB2” Don Haderle explains his monicker—

Mike Westholder is managing editor of IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition.

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