IBM is due to officially unveil its DB2 9 database, previously code-named "Viper," Thursday. As well as fully detailing functionality and pricing for the hybrid relational and XML database, the company also committed to a July 28 worldwide shipping date for the product.IBM is positioning DB2 9 as one of its most important database releases in recent years, given its capacity to store and manage not only structured relational data but also unstructured XML data such as audio, video and webpages natively. That additional ability contrasts with rival products from Microsoft and Oracle that rely on the older, slower approach of reformatting XML data or placing it in a large object before storing it as relational data.When earlier versions of DB2 tried to deal with XML data, "it was like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole," Bob Picciano, vice president of information management at IBM, said. "Whatever the question from customers, our answer was \u2018relational.\u2019 "The update temporarily gives IBM something of an edge over its rivals, according to analyst Wayne Kernochan, president of Infostructure Associates. "DB2 9 does look promising," he said. However, it\u2019s too early to say what kind of performance advantage all the new features in the IBM database will end up providing for users.While some organizations may find the native XML handling in DB2 9 useful, that kind of capability isn\u2019t likely to persuade existing customers of other databases to jump ship to IBM."Enterprises find it very difficult with existing applications to switch databases," Kernochan said. "People just tend not to do it." However, for customers with new applications, DB2 9 is likely to prove attractive, he added.IBM has been working on DB2 9 for\u00a0more than\u00a0five years, drawing upon the efforts of more than 750 of its development staff in eight separate labs around the world, according to Picciano. Also providing input on the direction of the database for the past three years has been a steering committee made up of 350 participants from IBM\u2019s partners, customers large and small, and local and national governments, he said.Picciano declined to put a dollar figure on IBM\u2019s investment in the new database. The company has filed 68 patents just in relation to the DB2 9 technology, he said.When DB2 9 ships, it will be the first time that IBM has simultaneously released three editions of the database\u2014enterprise, work group and developer\u2014based on a single code base.Other key features include a new storage-compression technology known as Venom and improvements in data management and security capabilities. DB2 9 can now support three types of database partitioning at the same time: range partitioning, multidimensional clustering and hashing. The new database includes a number of technologies like range partitioning and some autonomic capabilities that IBM acquired when it purchased rival database player Informix in 2001, Picciano said.DB2 9 will initially ship on Microsoft\u2019s Windows operating system, IBM\u2019s AIX flavor of Unix and a number of Linux distributions including Red Hat, Suse, Ubuntu and Mandriva, Picciano said. IBM does plan to support other operating systems such as Hewlett-Packard\u2019s HP-UX since DB2 has typically run on 34 different operating systems.IBM also intends to bring out a version of DB2 9 for its System z mainframe before year\u2019s end, he added.DB2 9 Enterprise Edition, a full-blown version of the database, is priced from US$36,400 per processor or $938 per user. The other two versions don\u2019t include all the features of the Enterprise release. Aimed at small to midsize businesses (SMBs), DB2 9 Workgroup Edition starts at $10,000 per processor or $350 per user, while DB2 9 Express Edition targeting developers costs from $4,874 per processor or $165 per user. All the versions include one year\u2019s maintenance, and the pricing assumes at least a minimum of five users.-China Martens, IDG News ServiceCheck out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.