By Eric Kuhnen, special to The Content Wrangler

In the world of XML-based content management, EMC Documentum’s recent acquisition of X-Hive might just be the most important content management event of 2007. This is not hyperbole, either. EMC’s action signals a fundamental unsuitability of any solution architecture based on relational database technology to the expanding need for enterprise-wide XML content management. Instead, it re-emphasizes that an object-oriented design is the most appropriate architectural basis for managing XML content in its native form. Here’s why.

As content creators steadily increase the number of XML objects under management, relational database systems suffer from accelerating performance degradation. Object-oriented systems do not. As a result, while relational database technology cannot support management of highly granular XML content, object-oriented systems can. X-Hive, as one of only a few systems (like Astoria Software’s Astoria On-Demand) that manages XML content natively using an object-oriented database, has proven this repeatedly to global companies mature in their production of XML content.

There is rapid adoption of XML-based content production in all departments and functions within an organization. In many instances, organizations are now exchanging XML content with different parts of the supply chain and with the customer base. As the need for XML content management across the enterprise continues to grow, EMC Documentum has seen its customers experience the difficulty of managing XML content in a relational database paradigm. By acquiring the X-Hive technology, EMC is poised to eliminate those difficulties.

Market Impact

The market impact will not be immediate. Even though they are retaining all X-Hive employees, EMC’s own engineers will need more than just a few months to incorporate X-Hive into Documentum’s product architecture. Furthermore, it will take additional resources and considerable time to industrialize what has been until now a stand-alone toolkit for building XML content management systems. Certainly part of that effort will focus on ways to bolster X-Hive’s performance profile in large-sized deployments.

Nevertheless, Documentum’s endorsement of X-Hive is a frontal assault to the technical underpinnings of XML content management companies like Vasont and XyEnterprise that have built their solutions on a relational database architecture. For years, these much smaller outfits have relied on Documentum’s size and market presence to maintain customer interest in relational database technology. Today, though, without EMC’s tacit endorsement of their own architectures, small-market-share purveyors of XML content management could struggle in the new competitive environment.

The effect on X-Hive’s customers is mixed., which provides an XML content management solution based on X-Hive’s technology, will be unaffected for the short term. However, DocZone will have to rethink its product strategy, because its key enabling technology is now owned by its potential competitor. For other customers who have built custom solutions around X-Hive technology, they can expect courtesy calls from EMC sales representatives pointing out efficiencies the Documentum team will wring out of a re-architected system based on X-Hive. As the X-Hive integration takes shape, follow-up calls will likely extol Documentum features, capabilities, and capacities, along with compelling pricing and terms, to persuade customers to abandon expensive in-house systems for more mainstream Documentum offerings.

The competitor to watch is PTC. The X-Hive acquisition upsets any of the normal architectural comparisons a customer might make between Windchill-based Arbortext Content Manager and EMC Documentum. As PTC sales reps talk about their solution’s value proposition vis-à-vis the Windchill architecture, customers will seek out Documentum to understand how a native-XML database alters performance expectations for enterprise content management systems. These extra conversations can only extend PTC’s sales cycles with new and existing customers, something PTC would rather avoid as it attempts recovery from what is turning out to be a difficult 2007. PTC has done a fine job delivering a high-value product data management platform based on Windchill. However, its XML content management solution is based mainly on the capabilities of Arbortext Editor, not Windchill. Now that EMC has put relational database systems like Windchill in its rearview mirror, PTC will have to decide if it’s still in the XML content management business. If the answer is “yes”, a likely next-step for PTC is a conversation with an object-based XML content management vendor.

About the author

Eric Kuhnen, Director of Product Management at Astoria Software, driving efficiencies in dynamic product documentation with on-demand delivery of structured content management.