Interview with Paul Beach from InterBase World

Friday, January 31 2003 by Marina Novikova

"In terms of music I am an aged punk", said Paul Beach in his interview for InterBase World, where he also cast some light on the legend about InterBase on Abram's tanks.

Marina Novikova: Please, tell about yourself. What is your hobby, what music do you listen to, what are your favourite books (writers)?

Paul Beach: I suppose the one thing out of work that takes up most of my time is gardening. In the UK they have something called "allotments". From memory this dates back to the 19C, when the government enacted the allotment act and encouraged local councils to allocate land (if there was enough demand) for the growing of vegetables to local people who didn't have gardens big enough. My wife and I currently run two allotments and grow most, if not all of our own vegetables. From Asparagus to Zucchini (Courgettes), as well as soft fruit (Strawberry's, Rasberry's etc). Although things are generally quiet in the winter, it does tend to keep us very busy during the growing season. If this sounds boring, I have to admit that I do like fast cars - being the owner of a TVR Chimarea 5.0 (See (link is no longer valid) - however it looks like they have recently re-designed the site, and it is soooo sloooow.)

In terms of music I am an aged punk, my teenage days were spent listening to and going to see bands like the Clash, the Jam, Stiff Little Fingers, Members, Joy Division, Ramones etc and I haven't grown out of it. In terms of more modern music I do listen to a lot of independent (indie) bands like Radiohead, Placebo etc. As for books, well my degree is in English Literature, so I have read many, many books over the years, but favourites include Patrick O'Brian, Frank Herbert, Wilfred Owen, Balzac, William Golding, Isaac Asimov, Shakespeare, John Donne and Thomas Hardy (eclectic aren't I)

Marina Novikova: Do you drink beer? If yes, what is you favourite kind?

Paul Beach: I originally come from the North of England, but now live in the South. For those who don't know, beer is served differently in the south than it is in the north (its something to do with the North South divide). Even though I lived the south for a number of years I still can't get used to the way they serve beer, so I tend to stick to white wine (new world sauvignon blanc) mainly. Although, when do I go back up North to see my parents, I am very partial to dropping in at the local pub. Out of all of the English bitters, I think Tetley's when it was originally brewed in Leeds and Theakston's are my favourites.

Marina Novikova: What was the most unusual (or strange) present you have ever got?

Paul Beach: Two black and white kittens that were rescued from the local hospital by my wife. They were feral in nature and absolute terrors. All teeth and claws. They managed to reduce a sofa to matchwood in less than six months, but ever since then we have always had cats in the house.

Marina Novikova: Do you remember the most exciting day of your life or the most wonderful moment of your life?

Paul Beach: Probably when I got re-united with my girlfriend at university, we had split up for 6 months or so, and I wondered if she would remember me. She did and she's now my wife, and we have been together for over 21 years.

Marina Novikova: What things do you hate to do? Which people's strains irritate you?

Paul Beach: Ironing - enough said. A thankless task. Re. other people - people who promise they will do things and then don't.

Marina Novikova: How do you spend your free time if you have any? :)

Paul Beach: On my allotments.

Marina Novikova: What is your greatest dream?

Paul Beach: To earn enough to escape the rat race, and buy a smallholding (small farm) somewhere quiet, with a decent bit of land.

Marina Novikova: Ann Harrison told she is a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature. And what is your education? How did you decide to work in the high tech field?

Paul Beach: I have a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Degree in English Literature from the University of Nottingham. I got involved in high tech completely by accident, when I left university I was thinking of becoming a journalist, but jobs were very difficult to find in the early '80's. So a friend of mine offered me a job as a "Systems Assistant" at a company called BRS Northern where they were implementing a new accounting system. (for "Systems Assistant" read "Gofer"). I ended up working on one of the first DEC VAX 11/750's in the UK, and DEC Professionals. I enjoyed it so much I got hooked and never looked back.

Marina Novikova: When and how did you start working on Borland (or did you work in the original ISC before Borland withdrew)?

Paul Beach: I never worked for the original ISC, but became involved in InterBase via Cognos. Cognos was a reseller of the product for many years. At Cognos I was a Senior Consultant specialising in relational database technology.

Borland then hired me form Cognos just after they had acquired Ashton Tate to set up a European support team., where we looked after InterBase customers throughout Europe. In early 1995 they made me redundant, and then hired me back six months later. I remained at Borland in a variety of management positions until I resigned from the company in January 2000. There were a number of times in my career at Borland where I could never understand quite what the senior management were doing.

Marina Novikova: What duties did you fulfill that time?

Paul Beach: Phew - at Borland I did many things, starting from looking after European Support for InterBase, then onto rebuilding the international InterBase business, then working in Product Management and Marketing, then running the nascent InterBase Business Unit. I generally enjoyed working at Borland, it was at times a very dynamic place, always on the cutting edge of technology. I also learnt a lot, especially from a few of the very clever people who worked there, or were also indirectly associated with Borland.

Marina Novikova: Can you characterize your life at that moment in three words?

Paul Beach: Schizophrenic.

Marina Novikova: I bet you have heard my next questions million of times but still: why did you leave Borland? When leaving the team, did you expect that Borland would open the sources?

Paul Beach: In terms of InterBase history, there was a period of time when Del Yokam was in charge, and InterBase once again existed as a separate subsidiary to Borland. We had a lot of fun then, as well as a lot of hard work, but at least we were responsible for our own destiny. Then Yokam decided to suck us back in, and a number of people quit. But not all. The few of us, who remained did manage to keep the remaining team together and tried to move the product on. At some point in early 1999 I was asked to become General Manager of the new InterBase business unit, when Borland was trying to get its act together under Dale Fuller. In January 2000 however, I was put in a very difficult position, when I was asked by Dale Fuller to do something I didn't feel I could do, and when certain promises that had been made to us were not delivered on. Because I felt I had a duty to the InterBase employees who had stuck with InterBase up until that point (regardless of what Borland had thrown at them) I resigned, then most of the other InterBase management team resigned, then the support staff resigned, then most of the engineers resigned.... There was a certain symmetry to this.

Before most of us left, some of us made the suggestion that InterBase should be open-sourced. At the time Red Hat had recently IPO'd and Dale liked the idea, and decided to explore it in more detail. As part of this exploration, I was asked by Dale to work with Ann on setting up a new company that would manage InterBase as open source product.

Marina Novikova: As shown on the InterBase roadmap ( you laid the foundation of IBPhoenix together with Ann Harrison. What are you responsible for now? Would you like to do anything else?

Paul Beach: Ann and I still run IBPhoenix, and as a company it is slowly growing, we can now do things that we couldn't do a couple of years ago especially in relation to supporting and helping Firebird grow. I have also been working hard with Jim Starkey on Netfrastructure, trying to get the product to market etc.

Marina Novikova: Please, tell three words describing your today's life.

Paul Beach: Frenetic.You can tell I studied english, why use three words when one will do :-)

Marina Novikova: InterBase is a popular RDBMS and Borland sells millions of its copies world-wide. Why is there still no English book on InterBase?

Paul Beach: Although I don't want to be pedantic, They never actually did sell millions, maybe hundreds of thousands per annum, but never millions. Remember large numbers of InterBase servers were given away with the development tools, as a seeding strategy. This was probably the best thing that happened to InterBase for a number of years, even though it happened by accident.. And I sincerely doubt that the numbers of sales today are anything like they used to be. Especially when users and developers now have a choice.

I don't know why there isn't an English book, perhaps its because Bill Karwin and I never got around to writing it.

Marina Novikova: InterBase 7 costs rather much (the prices can be compared with those on MSSQL. But judging by TPC tests, InterBase has a worse performance than MSSQL. What can you tell about such a pricing policy of IB? Can it be explained by its unique sphere of application, stagnancy of managers' thinking or just a marketing trick "expensive means good"?

Paul Beach: First of all TPC tests are a really bad indicator of performance. They typically do not reflect the real world where people have to write real applications. You should always benchmark your own application and not follow TPC figures.

InterBase's current marketing and pricing policy haven't changed much from what it was before the product was open sourced. From an outsider's perspective, if you look at InterBase before it was open sourced and you look at now. Nothing much has changed. From Borland's perspective it's as if InterBase was never open-sourced, i.e. it never happened. Yet it did.... and Firebird is living proof.

Marina Novikova: Why are there so few offers to developers working with InterBase. On we have found no such offers at all. How can you explain this?

Paul Beach: Over the years the number of job adverts that include InterBase has grown. I remember the times, when if you mentioned InterBase, you would just get a blank stare. That's not true nowadays. Most adverts for database developers typically don't mention a specific database, but ask for SQL skills. Anybody with good technical skills and SQL skills can use InterBase in the same way they can use MS SQL, Sybase, Oracle or any other relational database..

Marina Novikova: What do you think about the fact that many Russian developers participate in the FB project and influence its development?

Paul Beach: I think its great, I visited Russia a number of times and spoke in Russia at a couple of conferences. Whilst I was there and I met a large number of Russian developers, they were the ones who always asked the good questions and were very technically competent.

Marina Novikova: Many people say that InterBase is installed on Abram's tanks. Can you confirm this information? Sceptics say there is no need to install DBMS on tanks unless to count shells. But if it is true, what is it necessary for?

Paul Beach: Welcome to a "marketing" story that has got a little out of hand over the years. A number of years ago (and I am relying on memory here), InterBase signed a VAR contract with a company called Magnavox for the building of an advanced artillery fire and control system (AFTADS) for the US military. The system would consist of a central fire control that would instruct artillery (including tanks) to fire onto projected targets. InterBase was chosen to be the database for this system, because when a shell was fired the server managing the fire control system locally would crash. InterBase was the only database that Magnavox tested, that would recover automatically and come back on line in seconds. Whether this system was ever fully implemented I don't know. But as you say it makes a really good story.

Marina Novikova: Please, wish something to InterBase World community.

Paul Beach: Live long and prosper.