Businesses will soon be able to try out a new product from Ingres that aims to reduce maintenance work by combining the company's open-source database with a version of Linux from rPath.

The new software, code-named Project Icebreaker, will be available as a free public beta in about two weeks, with the final product scheduled to ship in December, said Ingres chief technology officer Dave Dargo.

Ingres has combined its database with only the parts of Linux that are needed to run the database. It will then deliver patches and updates for the two products in a single maintenance stream, reducing the time it takes to maintain a separate database and OS, Dargo said.

That makes Project Icebreaker interesting to Frédéric Barbier, an account manager with AP&P, one of Ingres' IT services partners in Europe.

"The whole package is tested, so you don't have to worry about compatibility of the Ingres version with the OS version," he said. "And from a business point of view you have one point of contact for support, one fee to pay."

Ingres is positioning Icebreaker as a general-purpose database for both small developer projects and demanding enterprise applications. The software will be available for free under the GPL, or customers can sign up for a maintenance and support subscription, which will be priced the same as the Ingres 2006 database, Dargo said.

Ingres refers to the product as an appliance although there is no hardware to it yet; customers install the software themselves on any x86-compatible server. Ingres is in talks with hardware vendors and hopes eventually to offer the product preinstalled on servers, Dargo said.

It's not clear yet that customers want a database appliance. In the late 90s, Oracle launched a project called Raw Iron, which packaged its database with an embedded operating system and a server. The product generated little demand and was eventually killed off.

Project Icebreaker is different, according to Dargo. Raw Iron gave customers little choice of hardware and locked them onto a particular server platform, while Ingres will let customers upgrade to new hardware as it's released, he said.

Ingres also hopes to distinguish itself by being an open-source company, but one with an enterprise heritage. Its database has been a commercial product since the 1980s and was developed and sold for a long time by CA. CA span Ingres out as a separate company in 2005 and sold most of it to Garnett & Helfrich Capital.

Peter Gale, a UK director with the IT services company Comprehensive Solutions International, said Ingres has been focussed largely on consolidating its existing business, and he's not seeing a lot of new demand for Ingres services at present.

"I know there are companies using Ingres, it's the take-up of new users that hasn't happened perhaps as fast as the community expected," he said.

Barbier agreed. "There hasn't been a lot of organised development in the Ingres open-source community; that's something Ingres will be working on more actively," he said.

"Until now, we've been concentrating on current customers rather than creating new business. That process should start sometime early next year," he added.

About 10,000 customers are using Ingres today, Dargo said, but that includes people using the database as part of a third-party product. He wouldn't say how many direct, paying customers Ingres has.

The success of Project Icebreaker will depend partly on how much customers are able to tune the database, particularly if they want to use it with enterprise applications, Gale said. Dargo said all the fine-tuning capabilities in Ingres 2006 will be available in the appliance version.

Such software appliances could be the wave of the future, Barbier of AP&P said.

"Right now you have the appliance with the operating system and the database. The future for me is going one step further and building applications on the same stack, with one maintenance stream for all three."