Object database management systems (ODBMSs) are typically found in niche uses. For instance, they serve as repositories under some knowledge management and document management applications. Similarly, they sometimes serve as the repository under a corporate portal, when the portal fulfills document or knowledge management functions. The meta data repositories under data warehouses and other data integration platforms are sometimes hosted in an ODBMS. Very recently, ODBMSs started to be used to store XML-based data.

In all these cases, an ODBMS is a good choice because the data being managed tends to fall into hierarchical structures with numerous and somewhat unpredictable relationships between data objects. A relational database management system (RDBMS) could store this same data, but an RDBMS cannot handle hierarchical data structures as natively or naturally.

Note that these examples are all niche uses, especially when compared to mainstream uses of RDBMSs as the database of record under transactional applications. So why hasn’t the ODBMS become mainstream like the RDBMS? For application developers, relational databases have proven themselves to be very easy to understand, especially in terms of data models. The straightforward, tabular data structures of RDBMSs are one of the reasons why RDBMSs have clear hegemony.

One of the technical barriers to acceptance of ODBMSs is the fact that the database designer must have in-depth skills with object-orientation – to extremes such as multiple inheritance, persistence and instantiation. Few database designers (and almost no database administrators) have these high-end skills. Another barrier is that best practices for scaling an RDBMS to high- transaction volumes and user counts are far better understood than those for ODBMSs.

THE HURWITZ TAKE: Hurwitz Group anticipates that ODBMSs will continue to be used mostly in niches, as described earlier. Even so, Hurwitz Group believes that ODBMS adoption has peaked and that ODBMSs will soon enter a late life-cycle phase that marks them as "legacy systems." With this impending downturn in ODBMS life cycle, many ODBMS vendors are currently scrambling to develop new products or to reposition existing offerings to create new revenue sources as revenue from ODBMSs slows down.

For instance, Object Design, Inc. renamed itself eXcelon, counting on its XML support to lead into new markets for native XML data storage. POET denies that it sells an ODBMS; instead, it markets its offering as a "content management system." Computer Associates hopes to breathe new life into Jasmine by making it the meta data repository and integration hub under other CA products. No doubt, these efforts will generate some revenue, but will be limited by the niche aspect and declining market of ODBMSs.

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