Informix TCO: The Facts Are In

Research studies put hard numbers behind the business case for Informix

Why would a company choose IBM® Informix® database software to manage its data infrastructure? Many organizations easily answer that question: performance, reliability, stability, ease of use, and extremely low administration and maintenance costs.

Now, two well-researched studies help paint a more specific picture of how, why, and where Informix reduces total cost of ownership (TCO) and maximizes return on investment (ROI). The International Technology Group (ITG) recently completed a study that directly compared Informix with database software from another well-known global vendor and confirmed a variety of Informix benefits. Both that study and a recently completed “Total Economic Impact” commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of IBM based on a large U.S. retailer demonstrate that these benefits can directly impact the bottom line.

Studies reveal a compelling cost picture

For organizations seeking an economical database solution, the cost picture presented by the two studies is compelling. The ITG report is built around two sets of research data. First, a survey of 62 midsize Informix users in North America and Europe documented DBA staffing levels and confirmed that these levels are significantly lower for Informix than for equivalent competitive systems. The survey also documented other benefits of Informix use.

The users in this survey had all deployed Informix-based solutions on Windows x86 or, in a few cases, Intel Itanium–based servers, and had at least one year of experience operating them. Users reported between 6,000 and 7,000 employees, and sales of between US$1 million and US$1.6 billion. The survey population spanned a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, telecommunications, retail, financial services, healthcare, transportation, government, media, IT services, real estate, agribusiness, engineering, and construction.

As a second step, ITG compared configurations, software, and DBA staffing among these Informix users and equivalent users of database software from another vendor (see sidebar, “Who was that masked database server?”) and calculated the TCO of using the different platforms. Three-year TCO was significantly lower for Informix, averaging 32.7 percent less than costs for the other database software (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Three-year costs for use of Informix and database software from a competing vendor; averages for all installations

Retailer sees favorable ROI

While the ITG study looked at the experience of dozens of different users, the Forrester study was a single-company analysis focused on a global retail organization. The retailer sought to expand the use of Informix for applications that have high transactional volumes—for example, a pharmacy application that provides access to prescription information across stores as well as back to the central distribution facility.

The objective of the Forrester study was to calculate the ROI or payback for this expansion project, which would also serve as an example of the ROI that other enterprises could expect from the Informix platform. Unlike the ITG study, which focused solely on the cost of software licensing, support, and personnel, the Forrester study looked at the total economic impact. This included not only software licensing, personnel, and annual maintenance, but also the cost of upfront implementation and hardware.

Forrester compared these costs to the value of the benefits provided by Informix in the retailer’s environment. Specific benefits included improved administration efficiency, reduced impact of planned and unplanned downtime for applications, and improved server utilization of existing server assets, as well as lower overall support costs resulting from fewer system incidents. Forrester determined the value of these benefits to be more than US$5 million over three years.

Based on the benefits and costs, Forrester calculated an ROI of 32 percent with a break-even point of 2.0 years after deploying Informix (see Figure 2). ROI is calculated by dividing net benefits (benefits minus costs) by costs.

Figure 2: Three-year adjusted return on investment


With the Informix expansion calculated to pay for itself in just two years, the retail organization analyzed by Forrester decided to proceed with the project. The Forrester study showed that Informix would help reduce the need for distributed, store-level staff to manage the pharmacy application—a point of particular interest to the retailer. It also showed that Informix would be able to deliver high levels of performance in an environment of rapid growth and could scale quickly depending on store demand.

Ease of administration cited as top benefit

Both studies validated the Informix reputation for ease of use. Improved management efficiency of the database environment was a key Informix benefit for the retailer in Forrester’s study, and 73 percent of users in the ITG study said that a primary advantage of using Informix was that databases could be easily administered.

Among organizations of all sizes, users reported that very little time was spent on routine database maintenance tasks and that little monitoring was required. ITG survey respondents described Informix in such terms as “very simple…very easy to administer…hardly any administration…almost no DBA time…virtually no tuning…near-zero maintenance…runs unattended most of the time.” Users praised specific Informix features as well: for example, DB Scheduler, which provides a framework to automatically schedule and monitor database activities, was described as “excellent…very easy to use.

A number of the companies studied by ITG used other databases from well-known vendors alongside Informix, and there was general agreement that DBA overhead was significantly lower for the Informix platform. In several cases, the number of DBAs required for administration fell from three or four to one after moving to an Informix database. Overall, DBA staffing for Informix was reported to be between two and four times less than for other databases.

Some users also cited the comparative ease with which non-DBAs could be trained to handle Informix administration tasks. For example, in an organization that has few staff members, a second individual could be trained to back up the primary DBA if the latter were unavailable.

Who was that masked database server?

To see these studies in their entirety, and to reveal the true identities of the database software that ITG compared to Informix, visit

  • Cost/Benefit Case for IBM Informix, International Technology Group, September 2010
  • The Total Economic Impact Of IBM Informix Database Server, a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of IBM, September 2010

Many unable to recall any Informix outages

High reliability and availability of the Informix platform were confirmed as well. Indeed, unplanned outages were sufficiently rare that many ITG survey respondents could not recall a single one. Several organizations reported that they had experienced outages due to other causes, such as hardware failures, power outages, and network disruptions. In these cases, Informix databases were rapidly recovered without data loss or corruption. Many users had not experienced either planned or unplanned outages over long periods, except for version upgrades and major application changes.

Respondents also mentioned the comparative simplicity of replication as a factor in choosing Informix. One organization that needed to support 24x7 business operations, for example, had reviewed Informix alongside databases from two other well-known vendors. It noted that Informix provided sophisticated failover and recovery features as standard, and that the use of clustering for the other platforms would have required additional, separately priced tools and a significant amount of custom consulting assistance.

Strong performance reduces hardware spend

While ease of use and reliability were top reasons for liking Informix, performance was also a big factor. ITG survey respondents reported strong performance not only for low-end, comparatively inexpensive installs by IT services companies, but also for other installations supporting larger-scale workloads. These included enterprise resource planning (ERP), query-intensive, image-intensive, and Internet workloads, as well as industry-specific systems in fields ranging from banking to distribution and retail.

In the Forrester study, improved performance through Informix allowed the retailer to more effectively utilize server resources. The organization in the study noted that, with Informix, it could delay or postpone the upgrade of existing servers to maintain performance compared with other platforms. By avoiding the need to purchase additional hardware server assets as it scaled its Informix footprint, the organization calculated that it could reduce its hardware spend by US$96,000 per year.

Making stretched resources do more

Traditionally, the core appeal of Informix has been that it enables organizations to achieve their goals while maintaining an essentially simple IT environment. These new studies confirm that this appeal translates into low administrative overhead and high levels of availability, which can significantly reduce costs and enhance ROI. Informix ownership costs were shown to be lower—by wide margins—than those of competing installations. All of these factors contribute to making Informix a logical choice for businesses looking for ways to make already stretched resources go further.