As a Db2 consultant and regular blogger I often receive questions about technical things, but also on strategy and industry trends. I try to help but I always make it clear when answering that I cannot predict the future, only make educated guesses… So with that introduction out of the way, one of the regular questions that I get involves comparing IMS to Db2, or helping to determine if it makes sense to convert from IMS to Db2. Here is the text of a recent question that was posed to me:

“My customer is wondering about the possible advantages of converting his IMS DB/DC system to IMS DC/Db2. The application currently performs well with an internal response time of less than .5 seconds on average. Even with an arrival rate of 425 full-function transactions per second, the queue count rarely goes above 10. This system typically peaks at 12.5 million transactions per twelve-hour day against HDAM and HIDAM databases totaling close to 1 terabyte. The application itself is currently a bit over seven million lines of code. Can you comment on the relative cost vs. advantage of moving an existing application from IMS DB to Db2 along with relative CPU capacity requirements?”

Here is my response:

Well, the main advantages of converting from IMS/DB to Db2 would be the better support for ad hoc query, support of standard SQL (instead of non-standard DL/1) for writing queries and a deeper pool of talent to support the Db2 environment. There are many more skilled Db2 developers out there than there are IMS techies these days. 

The primary benefit of sticking with IMS is the good and predictable performance you currently enjoy. And, of course, there would be no need to convert the database structures or the more difficult-to-achieve rewriting the necessary application code.

So, the high-level metric to keep in mind as you make your decision comes down to this: a well-designed IMS application will perform very fast, perhaps faster than a well-designed Db2 application (but that does not mean that Db2 is slow). On the other hand, it will be easier to develop applications for Db2, especially when data needs to be accessed multiple ways and in an ad hoc manner. 

I guess it boils down to this: How happy are you with the current application, are you able to support it properly and how many other IMS/DB databases do you support? If this is the last IMS/DB database and you are looking to convert away in order to rid yourself of the IMS license, then it makes sense to consider converting. But you should do a project plan and cost/benefit analysis before making your final decision (conversion can be very costly). If you have a lot of other IMS/DB databases, then don’t convert to Db2 unless you cannot support the needs of your end users (management, ad hoc support, etc.) using IMS.

In terms of CPU requirements, Db2 will consume more CPU than IMS. Db2 optimizes queries internally whereas IMS programmers construct access paths to data. This additional requirement will cause Db2 to consume more CPU. But, of course, that additional CPU brings with it the enormous benefit of database optimization and better ad hoc query support.

Furthermore, if you do decide to convert from IMS to Db2, be sure to use Db2 as it was intended to be used. In other words, don’t just convert segments to tables and be done. Make sure that you normalize your design and come up with a good “relational” Db2 database design. Also, be sure to train your programmers to write SQL queries. That means changing mindsets from the record-at-a-time processing of IMS to the group-at-a-time processing of Db2 and SQL.

For example, if you have master file processing logic it needs to be re-examined in Db2. Instead of open file, read record from file, use key to read record from database… you should be joining tables and reading from the join. This requires a different mindset and coding technique. 

As an additional consideration, keep in mind that Db2 is a much “newer” database technology than the hierarchical infrastructure used by IMS. So it stands to reason that newer capabilities and features will likely be implemented in Db2 before they are implemented in IMS; for example, AI and machine learning capabilities. That does not mean that IMS is obsolete, it isn’t; IBM still maintains and upgrades IMS (at the time of writing, the current version is IMS 15.2 which was released for GA in March 2020).


Of course, this answer has been necessarily brief. I encourage you to read up on Db2 and understand its many differences with regard to IMS before jumping into a “go”/”no go” decision. Best of luck…

Originally published on the Db2 Portal Blog.

Regular Planet Mainframe Blog Contributor
Craig Mullins is President & Principal Consultant of Mullins Consulting, Inc., and the publisher/editor of The Database Site. Craig also writes for many popular IT and database journals and web sites, and is a frequent speaker on database issues at IT conferences. He has been named by IBM as a Gold Consultant and an Information Champion. He was recently named one of the Top 200 Thought Leaders in Big Data & Analytics by AnalyticsWeek magazine.