Bell, Chamberlin remember Ted Codd

Aphorisms from exacting RDBMS pioneer


The father of the relational database, Ted Codd has died aged 79.

With his background in mathematics, the British-born researcher laid the foundations for a breakthrough in database technology at IBM.

"Ted had the key insights and developed the mathematical theory on which RDMBS were based," Don Chamberlin told us today. "System/R were the carpenters who came along and implemented the ideas."

But while the relational database was lauded as a theoretical concept, the carpenters had a job to convince a skeptical world that it could be a practical reality.

System/R was the code name for the legendary IBM research database project based in San Jose. The work culminated in IBM's DB2 database and included large contributions from Jim Gray, now at Microsoft Research.

"At first it wasn't clear that you could build an optimizer that would be as efficient as a human programmer," says Chamberlin.

"It took a little while for the relational ideas to catch on. It required a software layer to be implemented that could take a high level language that could map it down to an efficient execution plan," he says.

"We had the same arguments with high level languages with Fortran in the Sixties. There would be programmers who would insist that 'I can do a better job with my registers'".

"It took a practical demonstration that we could build a good optimizing compiler for SQL," he said. "We were up against existing products, some of which from IBM."

Mike Ross, a spokesman for IBM's Almaden research lab, sets out why:

"The Year 2000 issue was the result of memory limitations, but we can't imagine not having four digits on a date now; and relational databases allowed lots of flexibility when people weren't used to having flexibility."

Codd is lauded for defining the twelve rules of a relational database.

Although Codd was given an IBM Fellow award and focused on natural language processing, Codd also contributed to the System/R team.

"There was a good synergy. Ted had studied Mathematics at Oxford, other members had more of a programming language and system implementation background."

Even before his landmark "rules", Codd's influence was being felt beyond IBM.

"I was at Carnegie Mellon University when he was the IBM liaison at CMU," Gordon Bell told us today. "It was while I was talking to him that I came up with an invention." The invention was Unibus, an interconnect that Bell introduced into Digital Equipment Corporaton's PDP line of computers. Bell described it as an "aha" moment. He went onto lead engineering on the VAX, and [oral history]

Back to San Jose. Chamberlain related how he Codd spoke in aphorisms, which is a nice detail:

"Codd had a bunch of ...fairly complicated queries," Chamberlin said.  "And since I'd been studying CODASYL <the language used to query navigational databases> , I could imagine how those queries would have been represented in CODASYL by programs that were five pages long that would navigate through this labyrinth of pointers and stuff. Codd would sort of write them down as one-liners. ... (T)hey weren't complicated at all. I said, 'Wow.' This was kind of a conversion experience for me, that I understood what the relational thing was about after that." [via the fascinating and exhaustive System/R reunion site, which records vital oral history, with important things to tell us, and you must spend some time there. Today, if you can.]

Chamberlin also said (at the reunion) that Codd was slightly distant from the System/R project, in case it failed. And Codd would probably, he adds, have judged anything a failure against his own exacting 12 rules.

Codd's 12 rules expanded into 300, and were last seen heading north at over a thousand.

So who's to say who was right?

Commercial

The first commercial RDBMS was Multics Relational Data Store, from Honeywell, which shipped in 1976.

But at the University of California, Berkeley in 1973, Michael Stonebraker and Eugene Wong used published information on System/R to begin work on their own relational database. Codd's work - and the early published information on System/R - helped push their efforts along. Their Ingres project would eventually be commercialized by Oracle Corp., Ingres Corp. and other Silicon Valley vendors.

Codd was born in Portland, Dorset, attended Oxford University and served in the RAF in the Second World War. He joined IBM in 1953, and retired on 1 May, 1984. He subsequently formed a company with RDBMS expert Chris Date.

Jim Gray told us by email that a wake will probably be held in the San Francisco. It hasn't been organized yet, but "is likely to happen at IBM on Ted's Birthday in August." ®

Good Links

System/R reunion site
Multicians.org
any more? - ao


Other stories you might like

  • Verizon: Ransomware sees biggest jump in five years
    We're only here for DBIRs

    The cybersecurity landscape continues to expand and evolve rapidly, fueled in large part by the cat-and-mouse game between miscreants trying to get into corporate IT environments and those hired by enterprises and security vendors to keep them out.

    Despite all that, Verizon's annual security breach report is again showing that there are constants in the field, including that ransomware continues to be a fast-growing threat and that the "human element" still plays a central role in most security breaches, whether it's through social engineering, bad decisions, or similar.

    According to the US carrier's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) released this week [PDF], ransomware accounted for 25 percent of the observed security incidents that occurred between November 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, and was present in 70 percent of all malware infections. Ransomware outbreaks increased 13 percent year-over-year, a larger increase than the previous five years combined.

    Continue reading
  • Slack-for-engineers Mattermost on open source and data sovereignty
    Control and access are becoming a hot button for orgs

    Interview "It's our data, it's our intellectual property. Being able to migrate it out those systems is near impossible... It was a real frustration for us."

    These were the words of communication and collaboration platform Mattermost's founder and CTO, Corey Hulen, speaking to The Register about open source, sovereignty and audio bridges.

    "Some of the history of Mattermost is exactly that problem," says Hulen of the issue of closed source software. "We were using proprietary tools – we were not a collaboration platform before, we were a games company before – [and] we were extremely frustrated because we couldn't get our intellectual property out of those systems..."

    Continue reading
  • UK government having hard time complying with its own IR35 tax rules
    This shouldn't come as much of a surprise if you've been reading the headlines at all

    Government departments are guilty of high levels of non-compliance with the UK's off-payroll tax regime, according to a report by MPs.

    Difficulties meeting the IR35 rules, which apply to many IT contractors, in central government reflect poor implementation by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and other government bodies, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

    "Central government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds to cover tax owed for individuals wrongly assessed as self-employed. Government departments and agencies owed, or expected to owe, HMRC £263 million in 2020–21 due to incorrect administration of the rules," the report said.

    Continue reading
  • Internet went offline in Pakistan as protestors marched for ousted prime minister
    Two hour outage 'consistent with an intentional disruption to service' said NetBlocks

    Internet interruption-watcher NetBlocks has reported internet outages across Pakistan on Wednesday, perhaps timed to coincide with large public protests over the ousting of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

    The watchdog organisation asserted that outages started after 5:00PM and lasted for about two hours. NetBlocks referred to them as “consistent with an intentional disruption to service.”

    Continue reading
  • Suspected phishing email crime boss cuffed in Nigeria
    Interpol, cops swoop with intel from cybersecurity bods

    Interpol and cops in Africa have arrested a Nigerian man suspected of running a multi-continent cybercrime ring that specialized in phishing emails targeting businesses.

    His alleged operation was responsible for so-called business email compromise (BEC), a mix of fraud and social engineering in which staff at targeted companies are hoodwinked into, for example, wiring funds to scammers or sending out sensitive information. This can be done by sending messages that impersonate executives or suppliers, with instructions on where to send payments or data, sometimes by breaking into an employee's work email account to do so.

    The 37-year-old's detention is part of a year-long, counter-BEC initiative code-named Operation Delilah that involved international law enforcement, and started with intelligence from cybersecurity companies Group-IB, Palo Alto Networks Unit 42, and Trend Micro.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022