The early history of databases and DB2

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15 Responses

  1. John mckay says:

    Interesting article. Until unlighted ram a db is needed. It will be the main core of all applications. Ironically, it will be the first things that the applications blame for their poor coding. I find the debate if who’s first entertaining and mostly semantics

    All dba’s no matter what dialect will agree. Relational format was a profound change in the industry. (yes my roots are aforementioned hierarchical). Which ever flavor you pick all the work comes from the roots and founder of the relational model: Dr Codd.

    • Ember Crooks says:

      So even with super-fast storage (unlighted ram), won’t we still need a way to organize the data? And a way to query the same data in different ways?

      (and thanks for reading the blog – always thrilled to get comments and even more so from people that I’ve learned so much from)

  2. Nice write-up… just a quick correction (or perhaps, more accurately, an extended explanation). OS/2 Extended Edition Database Manager was the precursor to DB2 UDB. OS/2 1.0 was released in December, 1987. OS/2 1.20 EE was not released until early 1989. Eventually IBM completely rewrote the database manager software in the Toronto Lab. At this point Database Manager became DB2. The name was appended with a slash and extra description depending on the OS it ran on: DB2/2 for OS/2 and DB2/6000 for the RS/6000. It wasn’t until later in the 1990s that the name UDB was used.

  3. Harry Quackenboss says:


    Nice write up. Regarding the debate about when the first commercial relational data base was released, I would direct you to the website which chronicles the history and people associated with the Multics operating system. In 1976 Honeywell released MRDS (Multics Relational Data Store). See: and

    As described, the architects of MRDS were heavily influenced by the System R work done by E.F. Codd and others at IBM. The frustration of the System R proponents at IBM’s decision to not produce a commercial version was paralleled by the Multics and MRDS proponents’ dismay at Honeywell management’s unwillingness to place bigger bets on Multics and MRDS.

    MRDS on Multics had a couple of key technical advantages over the implementation of System R, which really helped commercial viability. The Multics operating system had built in support, implemented in hardware, for information sharing, ACL-based access control, , and inter-process communication, all available to user-level programmers. None of these were available in the IBM operating system at the time.

    Although Honeywell exited the general-purpose computer business, and Multics was never a great commercial success, in the early to mid 1980s, Multics systems were used by several very large enterprises, including Fortune 10 companies and government agencies, to handle their largest data management applications.

    • Ember Crooks says:

      Interesting. Am I correct in understanding that MRDS on Multics is no longer a going commercial concern? Are there still legacy systems using it?

      • Harry Quackenboss says:

        Honeywell Multics is no longer available. The website covers the whole history, including the shutdown of the last site in 2000. Honeywell transferred its general-purpose computer business to the French company Bull H.N. in 1986.

  4. Leandro says:

    A number of important inaccuracies:

    First, a relation is not a table. A relation is a set, a table (without a natural key) is a bag.

    Second, neither the definition of a relation, nor of a table, have anything to do with relational algebra. The relational algebra is about the manipulation, not the nature, of a relation. What we can say is that relations are defined on set theory, and the relationa algebra and calculus are defined on predicate logic.

    • Ember Crooks says:

      Thank you for the corrections. I’ll update the post based on this. Despite having a college degree with a focus in database management and over 10 years of experience as a DBA, I’ve never done relational algebra.

  5. Harry Quackenboss says:


    Not so fast. I refer both you and Leandro to the Wikipedia entry on relational algebra: which discusses relational algebra, sets, and relational data bases.

    Other references include this article here on relational algebra: and to the paper here: which discusses relational algebra in the context of query optimization.

    Some more history: I was part of a small marketing team at Honeywell responsible for Multics and put together the marketing materials which attempted to explain the concept of relational data bases to people who literally had never heard of them before. In order to do this, we had to interpret and explain the complex technical jargon from the IBM Systems Journal articles by Ted Codd and company into stuff people could understand. To give you as sense of the language those papers were written in, see:

    In this effort, I talked about Set Theory with presentation slides of Venn Diagrams to describe the join (i.e. AND) and the intersection (i.e. OR) of two sets (i.e. DOMAINS). In order to talk about elements of sets and tuples. In order to explain this to people who were familiar with then-contemporary commercial network and hierarchical data bases, I would tell them that 5-tuple was the same as a data base record with five fields.

    We never talked about tables. That came later. When I first heard relational data bases described as a bunch of tables with rows and columns, my reaction was, why didn’t I think of that? Because that’s what effective marketing is all about. It was described by a VP marketing mentor of mine as “taking the square pegs that engineering produces and fitting them into the round holes the customers have.”

    Leandro is right about one thing. Tables have nothing to do with relational algebra. In this context, tables have to do with marketing. But if I were Leandro, I’d be thankful the marketeers abused the mathematics. If they hadn’t, generations of data base architects and programmers would be in other lines of work.

  6. mos gerila says:

    This seems to be first database ever…

    • Ember Crooks says:

      As much as I’d like IBM not to have been involved, I won’t pretend they weren’t.

      However, any database of that era was not relational.


      • mos gerila says:

        I am just suggesting that this database should not be missed from a history of databases (even it’s not relational). It can be easily categorized as one of the most important databases in the world, due to its consequences. I stress that it should be a historical landmark. Of course, it’s just an opinion.

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