IBM Informix Review

Many embedded functionalities of the engine allow for significant savings on complex developments and maintenance


What is our primary use case?

I have assisted a wide range of customers in strategic and/or critical applications, such as:

  • Health Care: Informix is at the epicenter of all the biggest private hospital consortia in Belgium, concentrating critical and real-time data.
  • Laboratories: Informix is the center of several environment control quality software.
  • Telco: Informix handles the biggest Mobile operator in Southern Europe.
  • Insurance: Several companies in Europe and India. 
  • Banking: Informix as a central platform for a number of medium-size banks in Europe and Africa.
  • Real-time industry: Informix manages data for big battery plants in France. 
  • Government: Ministry of Education and Ministry of Justice. 

Most of these customers were running on Unix based installations, like AIX, Solaris, HPE, and Linux.

How has it helped my organization?

  1. Whenever a DBMS is the central piece of an application, Informix provides a very high rate of reliability. E.g., some customers show Informix uptime of 10 years.
  2. The flexibility of its replication architecture allows for achieving easy high availability + DRP + enterprise type replication. 
  3. Its hybrid data model allow for concurrent handling of structured data (SQL), custom data types and handling methods, unstructured data (NoSQL), and soon graph data.
  4. The very low level of DBA staffing necessary to handle many instances. Some customers handles tens of thousands of Informix instances with barely more than two handfuls of DBAs.
  5. For any customer involved in IoT, Informix is just the best solution from edge to central servers. Informix Entreprise works great on edge devices as well as central servers, including massively parallel architecture and in-memory OLAP. DataBlades, like TimeSeries, are the best ever way to implement any application based on time based data in a very massive way.

What is most valuable?

  • Very flexible with extended replication architecture. It has great responses to complex requirements, implemented easily, and is easy to maintain.
  • Easily scalable, vertically and horizontally 
  • Hybrid data: Does SQL and NoSQL in the same queries, providing simple answers to complex scenarios
  • Onboard DataBlades like TimeSeries, Spatial, node, etc.
  • Warehouse Accelerator easily plugs into OLTP instances and deals with OLAP queries with extreme performance (query response times divided up to 700).
  • For IoT business cases, having Informix Enterprise Edition work on edge computers, like Raspberry Pi and using Informix replication, makes complex situations simple to build and maintain. 

What needs improvement?

  • Continue extending the SQL language for compatibility with the competition's language, including Stored Procedure Language.
  • Be more active in the open source community.
  • Regain occupation of VAR and BP fields.
  • Regain occupation in software makers.
  • The product needs a lot more marketing involvement from IBM. Some customers simply believe that Informix does not exist anymore due to the heavy silence of IBM Salesforce.

For how long have I used the solution?

34 years as an end user, developer, and solution architect.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Many customers that I have met or talked to report uptimes of five or six years. Our identified record is no downtime over 10 years.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Informix was one of the very first DBMS implementing a real multithreaded architecture in early 1990s. This architecture is now bulletproof and continues enhancing at every release.

Informix scales great vertically (on the same machine) and horizontally (on other machines). The query sharding technology, although implemented a few years ago, was developed on Informix in the early 2000s on a data warehouse specific Informix product.

How are customer service and technical support?

Technical support is generally very efficient. I have never had a bad experience with the tech support. Sometimes, the delays seem a bit long, but they respect deadlines.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

After having developed on hierarchical DBMSs (HPE images + Visual Basic) for a number of years, I wanted to replace this wonderful but dying platform with a more modern one. I had requirements on DBMS functionality and language possibilities. This is when I starting looking at emerging platforms (the 1980s).

How was the initial setup?

Once the DBAs are correctly trained on the product, setup is generally trouble-free. People attending the IBM training on Informix quickly become very knowledgeable on the product.

Informix is very powerful. It renders high levels of performance with amazingly low level of hardware resource consumption. In many cases, for moderate-size implementations, the low level editions are enough to handle the workload, taking care of which functionality or limitation is offered by every edition.

What about the implementation team?

To implement in-house, I highly recommend a good training on the product with IBM or another company based in the US. Generally companies who know Informix are passionate about that product with deep knowledge and experience on it.

What was our ROI?

I do not have figures for my company since we work with final customers. Nevertheless, a number of customers had comparative studies with the direct competition and decided immediately to stay with Informix. Although these figures were confidential, they explained that the DBA staffing figures left no chance to any competitor, the costs of instability were insignificant, and the product does not have high levels of hardware requirement. Also, many embedded functionalities of the engine allow for significant savings on complex developments and maintenance.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

The free edition can be enough to handle moderate-size implementations, but you may want a pay for edition to benefit from more functionality, such as replication.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I tested: 

  • Windows based systems, such as FoxBase, but they were too limited.
  • Oracle and PL/SQL were too expensive for my budget, extremely complex to implement, and had very limited development possibilities.

With Informix + Informix-4GL, I found exactly what I wanted for my projects.

Some customers have decided to leave Informix and sourly regretted this decision after the first severe issues appeared. Many of them came back to Informix.

What other advice do I have?

Take a real look at Informix before making any choice. The competition may look appetizing but unsuspecting issues will probably occur after making the wrong choice, such as unbudgeted increases of your DBA team, decrease of reliability, and increase of complexity to implement similar solutions.

In terms of functionality, not a lot is needed. The product has a lot of very good, useful functionality.

Not looking at Informix would really mean a shot in your own leg before walking a long distance. This reflects my opinion and the vast majority of my customers'.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

On-premises
**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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