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A Closer Look at Oracle's 11g Database Release

Last week's announcement of Oracle's soon-to-be released 11g database highlighted a bevy of new features and options promising improved performance, accelerated change management, higher scalability, easier administration and reduced cost. The market leader is pioneering on some fronts and following on others, but the one thing that's clear is that the still-fast-growing database market is far from commoditized. Here's a closer look at the stand-out enhancements.
To speed query performance and support large-scale, high-volume deployments, Oracle has embedded an OLAP engine in 11g to store and efficiently manage up to millions of materialized views. Used by some 60 percent of Oracle's data warehousing customers, materialized views are a sort of pre-fetching technique used to speed multidimensional queries.

"The big breakthrough here is that we're able to use the OLAP cubes as a transparent performance accelerator inside the [relational] database," said Mendelsohn. "The users are still happily using their SQL applications, and they won't even know they're using OLAP." The cubes are refreshed as the data changes in underlying SQL tables.

Playing Catch Up

Not all the new features in 11g are breakthroughs. For example, the added support for binary XML follows in the footsteps of IBM, Microsoft and Sybase, and the new data compression features are also matched by competitors. Oracle itself has long supported storage of large unstructured data objects such as images and documents, but the Fast Files feature introduced in 11g is said to match or beat file system retrieval speeds. That may hasten changes in content management architectures.

"Many large enterprises would not make expensive file servers and proprietary repositories (long the backbone of document management and enterprise content management systems) their first choice for managing ECM-related files, noted analyst Alan Pelz-Sharpe of CMS Watch. "Surely IBM and Microsoft will respond with their own capabilities."

The one thing Oracle failed to do last week was provide a lot of detail on release dates, pricing and standard-versus-optional features — other than to say that the first release would be a Linux version set for August. During a news conference, Phillips said pricing would follow the same model used on 10g, but he acknowledged some new features might be optional. If the company follows past practice, the Unix and Windows versions of the database will bow within 90 days of the Linux release.

Competitors Sybase, IBM and Microsoft will bring enhancements of their own to the market over the next six months. Sybase is expected to announce new capabilities at its August TechWave user conference in Las Vegas. IBM released a beta version of its DB2 Viper database earlier this month with enhancements including automated fail over, greater flexibility and granularity in security, auditing and access control (an answer to Data Vault?) and simplified memory management. Microsoft will announce SQL Server 2008 as early as February with release set for the second quarter. Enhancements will include better support for spatial data, something also introduced in 11g.

So it seems the database market is more like a competitive hot bed than a "mature and commoditized" realm, and with growth rates averaging 14.2 percent, it's actually outpacing the "hot" BI market.