Oracle's New Database Innovates And Imitates

There are some neat new features in Oracle 11g -- and some intended to stave off Microsoft.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 13, 2007

3 Min Read

Oracle went to New York last week to introduce the first new version of its flagship database in four years: Oracle 11g. And to remind people of its database expertise. "Innovation is the theme of 11g," said Robert Shimp, VP of Oracle's global technology business unit.

Be that as it may, there were still plenty of questions. Some of the database's 500 new features will be offered as separately priced add-ons when 11g becomes available on Linux in August, but an Oracle spokesman couldn't say specifically which ones. He also couldn't say when versions of 11g will be available for Unix and Windows.

Users say they're raring to go, Phillips asserts.

Oracle president Charles Phillips boasted that 35% of the 20,000 members of the International Oracle Users Group "say they're ready to go to 11g," though he declined to speculate on how long it might take before the entire customer base had migrated to the new system.

Aspects of the new database are intriguing. In 11g, for example, Oracle is pioneering a feature that lets the database take a snapshot of an 11g workload, then run it on a test version of a new database server, which might include a database upgrade, a new operating system, or a new middleware-hardware combination. "It's like record and replay," says Andy Mendelsohn, an Oracle senior VP. "You can replay the workload in a new environment and see if it will run or spot the bottlenecks."

This real application testing feature--or regression testing, as it's commonly called--aims to ensure that everything works as expected. Real application testing is expected to reduce one of the database administrator's biggest headaches: moving from an old system configuration to a new one.

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Another key feature is more efficient XML handling. Verbose XML text, often used in messaging over the Internet, gets translated into binary format and stored in the database. Oracle 11g can compress binary XML to save storage space; it can also encrypt it to ensure privacy.

In another innovation, Oracle has built more usefulness into live standby systems earmarked for disaster recovery. Instead of keeping the hot standby on idle, Oracle 11g can offload reporting and other noncritical functions to the disaster recovery system, without impairing the database's ability to be up to date and available at an instant's notice.

Some of the additions to Oracle 11g are aimed at countering Microsoft, which has been adding business intelligence features into the core of its database system rather than selling them as add-on products. Oracle has favored the latter strategy, but it has reversed course with 11g by embedding online analytical processing cubes. Average users, as opposed to highly trained business analysts, can fire standard SQL queries at OLAP cubes and get the benefit of in-depth views of data, such as a time-sensitive look at sales data across multiple regions.

Contrary to some analyst predictions, the "mature" database market continues to grow at a rapid clip--14.3% in 2006, to $16.5 billion, according IDC's latest figures. IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle all share in that growth; Oracle is growing the fastest measured by dollar volume, while Microsoft is growing the fastest by units shipped. Together, they both appear to be contributing to IBM's slippage in overall market share.

One reason that Oracle is moving ahead as IBM is slipping, says IDC analyst Carl Olofson, is its reoriented appeal to small and midsize businesses through a smaller-footprint "express" version of the database and its gain in license revenue with customers' upgrades to multicore servers, which increase the price of database licenses.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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