By Doug Bartholomew In an era of severely depressed share prices for high-tech -- and particularly software -- companies, it's a wonder more healthy players aren't doing what a sharp-eyed IBM Corp. did April 24. Big Blue announced a deal to pay $1 billion -- a steal at one and one-quarter times revenues -- for the ailing database software business of Informix Corp. Once an up and coming competitor in the database business against the likes of Oracle Corp., IBM, Microsoft Corp., and Sybase Inc., Informix has gradually seen its market share slide. Sales of database software last year fell 15% at Informix, which has more than 100,000 customers worldwide. It's those database customers that IBM wants. "We're anxious to keep the 100,000 customers we're inheriting happy," says Jeff Jones, senior program manager in IBM's Data Management Solutions group. "This is an easy way to double the business we do on the Unix platform." Last October, Informix, formerly based in Menlo Park, Calif., but now located in Westboro, Mass., split its business into two: Ascential Software, an e-business software unit, and the database division, Informix Software. When the deal is completed, Informix will change its corporate name to Ascential Software. Also headquartered in Westboro, Mass, this division had sales of $122 million last year. "Customers are aggressively investing in data management software because data collection, storage, and use are at the core of a successful e-business," explains Sam Palmisano, president and COO of IBM, headquartered in Armonk, N.Y. Most likely IBM will continue to offer and support the Informix relational database while gradually moving Informix customers over to its own database product, DB2, when they're ready. Informix chairman and CEO Peter Gyenes hinted as much in the joint IBM/Informix press announcement, in which he said, "This acquisition also extends the reach and relevance of key Informix technologies as they are evolved and integrated into future versions of IBM data management offerings." IBM also said it intends "to integrate selected Informix technology into future versions of DB2(a) Universal Database, which will remain IBM's flagship database product." Along with the acquisition, IBM and Ascential announced a global strategic alliance. IBM will work with Ascential to integrate some of the smaller firm's technology into the DB2 product. The two firms also will jointly develop and market information asset management software based on Ascential's DataStage, DataStage 390, and Media360 products.