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Relational Database Management Systems: The Formative Years
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Prior to relational database management systems, the best-selling mainframe software products were the hierarchical and network database management systems (DBMS), which were developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These products continued to be heavily sold and widely used through the 1990s (and are still in use today at many companies). DBMS products were marketed, delivered, and supported by some of the most successful independent software companies and became major money makers for those companies as well as for IBM. The DBMS products, with their accompanying data communications systems (often called DB/DC systems), enabled users in all industries to construct online transaction processing applications far more rapidly and at much lower cost than if they were done as stand-alone applications. DBMS products became the foundation for many (some say most) of the core applications in every industry, commercial business, and government agency. They became the engine that drove the sale of mainframe computers during the 1970s and for many years afterward. The October-December 2009 special issue of the Annals covered the history of the principal DBMS companies.

And yet their success was soon overtaken by the new relational DBMSs. One of the most interesting stories in the history of software products is how the new relational model, published in 1970 by E.F. (Ted) Codd, spawned a whole new set of independent software companies. Together with IBM, they developed the RDBMSs that supplanted the DBMS companies and their DBMS models in both query-oriented usage and in many transaction-processing applications. This Annals special issue tells the story of how this transformation began and describes how three companies pioneered the development of relational database management products to meet the relational challenge and build the foundation for the growth of a multibillion dollar industry.

Special Issues

This special issue of the Annals is introduced by articles from two of the premier computer historians: David Alan Grier and Martin Campbell-Kelly. Grier examines the history of the search for better ways to manage information and to produce more effective information systems and how this led up to Codd's conceptual breakthrough with the Relational Algebra. Campbell-Kelly provides a business history of the RDBMS industry, focusing on its roots in California's Silicon Valley. These two articles are followed by an overview article by Hugh Darwen, who with Chris Date, was a major proselytizer of the relational principles. Darwen's article describes Codd's new mathematical approach to database structures and provides an introduction to some of the key elements of the relational concept.

After these foundation articles, the issue then consists of three feature articles that cover the recollections by industry pioneers about the history of the companies that they worked for: IBM, Oracle and Ingres.

As a result, we have in this issue the history of how these three different companies entered into the relational database management marketplace. Each was unique in its approach from a technical and management standpoint. Each of these stories is a mixture of recollections of technology innovation and challenges and how they were addressed.

In addition, thanks to the assistance of Anecdotes Editor Craig Partridge, we have been able to enhance the issue by including an Anecdote by industry pioneer Donald Chamberlin, who tells the history of developing SQL, which became the query and programming language used with the RDBMS products.

A second special issue of the Annals in 2013 will cover the explosive business growth of the principal companies producing RDBMSs and show how they grew to be billion dollar corporations. That issue will include articles about IBM, Oracle, Informix, and Sybase as well as department articles on setting SQL standards, the history of SQL/DS, IBM's first RDBMS product, and Oracle's targeted marketing advertisements.

Preservation Efforts

This is the fifth special issue of the Annals edited or coedited by Luanne Johnson and myself, the cofounders of the Software Industry Special Interest Group (originally the Software History Center), which is now affiliated with the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. These special issues have been supported by a wealth of material that has been collected since 2000, including transcripts of workshops, oral histories, personal stories, and...



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