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11/15/2007
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Oracle Customers Like Compression, Storage Management, XML Handling

Customers attending Oracle OpenWorld found different things to like in Oracle's smorgasbord of new software announcements and recent enhancements.

They each have different priorities but three of 43,000 attendees at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco this week each found something to like in Oracle's smorgasbord of new software announcements and recent enhancements.

Carlo Tiu, senior programmer analyst with Northern California Power Agency, works for an independent, "green" producer of hydro and geothermal power that also coordinates contributions to the state electrical grid from other independents. Its members include the cities of Palo Alto, Lodi, and Santa Clara, which run their own generating plants.

Tiu is overseeing the transformation of the agency's information exchange systems from hard-to-implement, point-to-point communications to one that captures and exchanges standardized XML data. To him, the XML DB capabilities built into the Oracle database are a lifesaver.

For each producer, the agency must capture on a regular basis the amount of wholesale power it's supplying the grid and the value of that power. The data is captured in intervals throughout the day, resulting in large XML files that must be processed by the agency's system.

"Some of the files are 100 megabytes, but Oracle 11g is working well with them," said Tiu in an interview. Oracle's XQuery capability, where an SQL-like query is applied to XML data, "shreds a 100-megabyte XML file in seconds," he said, yielding the necessary data for reporting the amount of power supplied and resulting payment to the supplier.

The agency has designed XML schema for capturing the data and is sharing that design with the other suppliers as open source code. As more producers adopt it, it will become easier for coordinators to see what's going on within the state power distribution system.

The agency's goal is not only to improve its own operations, but "to bring up the level of XML expertise in the electricity marketplace and reduce costs for all utilities," Tiu said. The Federal Energy Commission and the California Independent System Operator, a non-profit corporation, will require the use of XML data by suppliers in March of 2008, he said.

Tiu also spoke at an Oracle OpenWorld session on manipulating and storing XML data. Many attendees raised their hands as XML data users, but few used the XML DB capabilities in Oracle.

Oracle has supported XQuery since the 10g version came out. Oracle 11g released in July included more granular XML data storage and indexing, enhancements that make handling large amounts of XML data more efficient, said Tiu.

A second Oracle customer, John Marks, IT supervisor at Chesapeake Energy, stores data for the largest natural gas producer in the U.S. and finds his databases growing at a rate of 75% a year.

His production systems are Oracle 10g, and he's a user of the Oracle file storage system Automated Storage Management. He looks forward to converting to 11g next year because ASM is getting added file management capabilities.

Right now, he's capturing terrain and drilling location images at the rate of 170 pages an hour, with an index to the images stored on a separate server in their own file system. The data needs to be readily accessible, but "if the index file system goes offline, the database server might as well be down as well" because the images become inaccessible.

By combining the two under ASM on one server, Marks said he gains assurance that one will never be available without the other. The joint management of the two types of data will also help keep them closely synchronized, he said.

The third user, Michael Prince, former CIO of Burlington Coat Factory and now CTO of the retail chain, said his firm strives to run Oracle under Linux and realizes major cost savings in doing so. It is running a legacy application working with Oracle 8i on a Sequent/Unix server, but he runs 40 production databases on two clusters of 16-node servers. They are x86-based servers costing $15,000-$20,000 compared to the $500,000 symmetrical multiprocessing servers on which Burlington Coat used to run its database systems.

Prince in an interview said he would "aggressively advocate" that his firm move to 11g next year because its ability to compress data "can probably shrink the size of our databases by two-thirds."

Automated Storage Management appeared in the 10g version and allowed database administrators to assign the amount of disk needed for actual database data storage as opposed to guesstimating and "over-provisioning" the storage volumes.

Prince said he also likes the Data Audit feature, previously a standalone product, now included in Oracle 11g. Data Audit includes a Total Recall feature that allows a database administrator to recreate all the activity in a given database table for a given time period upon demand.

"That's an enormously valuable feature for compliance. The day we turn it on, we're compliant," he said.

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