IBM’s Spatial Technology - An Interview with Michael Stevens

By Joe Francica

Directions Magazine Editor, Joe Francica, interviewed Michael Stevens, Public Sector/Spatial Solutions Marketing Manager for IBM regarding his company's spatial database products.We asked Mr.Stevens to give a review of IBM's spatial technology, its products, and where they fit with respect to database solutions from Oracle and Microsoft.Readers may recall that IBM acquired Informix a few years ago, which had a the spatial databade extensions to support GIS.

Joe Francica (JF): After the acquisition of Informix by IBM, database product lines were maintained.Can you give a brief overview of the existing products in the context of managing spatial data?
Michael Stevens (MS): IBM offers three leading spatial technologies to help customers manage their data, including IBM Spatial Extender, IBM Informix Spatial Datablade Module and IBM Informix Geodetic Datablade Module:
    • Spatial Extender - based on IBM DB2 Universal Database, this extender offers OGIS Simple Features, Types and Functions certified Planimetric geometry support, and uses the DB2 Grid Index for spatial performance. This extender was created in partnership with ESRI of Redlands, California.
    • Spatial DataBlade Module - based on IBM Informix Dynamic Server (IDS), this datablade offers OGIS Simple Features, Types and Functions certified Planimetric geometry support, and uses IDS R-tree Index for spatial performance.Also created in partnership with ESRI.
    • Geodetic DataBlade Module - based on IBM IDS, this datablade offers support for OGIS Well Known Text (WKT) and Well Known Binary (WKB) formats.Includes Geodetic geometry support and uses IDS R-tree Index for spatial performance.

    IBM Business Partners such as MapInfo and Barrodale Computing Services also deploy IBM spatial technologies in their solutions.

JF: Will these product lines be maintained, segmented, or renamed to address specific applications?
MS: IBM will continue to maintain, enhance and support Informix technology as customers require. Over time, customers will benefit from capabilities derived from across our spatial portfolio to provide increased flexibility in deploying applications and solutions.

JF: Oracle has obviously garnered mindshare for spatial data management. What are the strengths of the IBM product suite? What specific database structures are used in each member of the suite? [That is, do you use a quadtree, R-tree, or other indexing technology to manage simple features?
MS: In the spatial data management market, IBM's product suite strengths include a high level of performance and scalability, adherence to industry standards, the broadest platform support in the industry, ease of application development and lower total cost of ownership.

DB2 database software uses a 3-stage Grid Indexing method for the Spatial Extender. Unlike the R-tree, which is a data partitioning strategy, the Grid Index (like the QuadTree) is a space partitioning method. IBM IDS uses the R-tree (and was one of the first database products to implement it).Both indexing strategies complement each other very nicely. The strengths of our suite include a high level of performance and scalability, adherence to industry standards, and ease of application development.

JF: Are you engaged in following the OGC simple features specifications?

MS: Yes, IBM spatial technology is certified by OGC and we will continue to adhere to its specifications.
JF: You focus primarily on the government sector.Where have you seen successes in implementing IBM database technology?
MS: IBM has many spatial customers worldwide in both the public and private sector.For example, in the U.S., customers include the City of San Francisco and Metro Nashville.Federal customers include the United States Geological Survey and Bureau of Land Management.

In addition, IBM spatial technology is the centerpiece of the highly successful Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) project to automate the land cadastre for the country of New Zealand. It is also widely used in Australia (New South Wales, Queensland, etc.) for large scale government cadastre work.

There are also numerous military customers around the world using our spatial technology. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the applications, we are unable to comment about them.However, I can tell you the IBM Informix Geodetic Data Blade is widely used in the US Military and allied agencies. NIMA Libraries is based on this software along with several programs at NASA. We have several weather and space-related installations in Europe as well.

The IBM IDS-based Grid Data Blade Module from Barrodale Computing Services, is used along with Informix Spatial and Geodetic Data Blade Modules, at the US NAVY Fleet Numerical Meteorological and Oceanographic Command (FNMOC), as the basis for the Tactical Environmental Data Server (TEDS), used to distribute weather models to Navy operations.

JF: Will IBM place a greater emphasis on other markets for spatial data management and what might they be?
MS: IBM was an early provider of spatial technology for the utility industry and we continue to focus on the retail, transportation, healthcare, banking and insurance industries. IBM has always had a very high profile in the enterprise, and as GIS inevitably moves in that direction, we will be well prepared with software, partners and services.
JF: Microsoft has positioned SQL Server for smaller implementations of GIS; Oracle for enterprise implementations.Where does IBM fit, and are you concerned that it will be positioned in the middle where it could be at risk for going unnoticed?
MS: IBM's database technology meets the demand of large corporations and is flexible to serve small and medium sized businesses. We are also focused on smaller versions of our databases, like the recently announced IBM DB2 Express database software, that is targeted at the small and medium-sized business market. We are also working on embedded spatial technology, including wireless and location-based services.
JF: Is the management of spatial information recognized as being a major potential market for IBM, either among the product managers or within IBM Global Services for enterprise GIS contracts.
MS: Spatial technology, be it in specific products or as embedded technology, is an important market for IBM. GIS implementations continue to get larger in the marketplace, creating more demand for services and support.IBM Data Management works closely with IBM Global Services and a variety of other services organizations. For example, the LINZ project in New Zealand was implemented with Price Waterhouse before IBM acquired them. The ecosystem of products, partners, and services continues to grow and we see that trend continuing.

Published Saturday, March 15th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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