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What the annual Oracle Database release cycle means for DBAs

As Oracle changes its database release cycle to yearly updates with new version numbers, Oracle users will get faster access to new features -- but also new upgrade questions to weigh.

Oracle is changing the release schedule and version numbering scheme for its flagship database software -- and...

there's more to the change for Oracle users than just some new product numbers.

Beginning next year, Oracle will develop a new Oracle Database release annually, and the version number will be the last two digits of the year a release is issued. As a result, the next version will not be 12.2.0.2, as originally planned, but rather Oracle Database 18. What was to be version 12.2.0.3 will follow in 2019, and it will be known as Oracle Database 19, and so on going forward.

It isn't just a numbering change, though. One benefit for users is that Oracle will provide new features yearly instead of waiting two, three, four or even more years for the next major version, as it sometimes did in the past.

On the other hand, new features have often been introduced between major versions, as well. For example, Oracle8i Database, which was really an 8.1 update to Oracle8 under a different name, gave us function-based indexes and locally managed tablespaces. Oracle Database 11g Release 2 brought the Oracle Grid Infrastructure technology and associated Single Client Access Name feature for streamlining access to databases running in a cluster.

No waiting on new features

One didn't even need to wait until the second dot in the version number to change to see new features being introduced in an Oracle Database release. For example, the 12.1.0.2 version of Oracle Database 12c -- officially labeled as a patch set -- introduced the Oracle Database In-Memory option.

In reality, Oracle went away from patch sets for bug fixes years ago. In the old days, we would have Oracle 9.2.0.3, and we would apply the 9.2.0.5 patch set on top of it only to fix known issues in the software. However, since the 11.2.0.2 patch set, these have been full releases. Database administrators (DBAs) still might have referred to them as patch sets, but Oracle's perspective on that has been different since 2012.

For all those reasons, there really was no good reason for Oracle to continue with the old numbering scheme. The changes bring it more in line with what has really been happening for quite some time. Oracle 12.1.0.1 and 12.1.0.2 were different full releases, as 12.2.0.1 and the future Oracle Database 18 will be.

Upgrade avoidance issues

Many DBAs would never deploy the initial release of a major version in their production environments. The logic was that the first release was full of bugs, and it would be better to wait until the first patch set became available to upgrade existing databases or create new ones. While many still carry this line of thinking, the reasons for it haven't been true for quite a long time.

For starters, every Oracle Database release has bugs in it. Even after a patch set came out, there were still bugs, which is why subsequent patch sets were released. In addition, the line between major versions and patch sets was blurry. Since there was no other patch set for Oracle Database 11g after 11.2.0.4, the bugs in it were fixed in the first version of 12c.

Second, Oracle Database is a mature product used in mission-critical deployments all over the world. Oracle is not going to release a version that isn't stable and won't work for an overwhelming majority of its customers.

The change in the release schedule and version numbering scheme, which is outlined in My Oracle Support Note 742060.1, will make DBAs realize that every version of Oracle Database is a new one, with added features and functionality. For patches and bug fixes, meanwhile, DBAs can apply Oracle's quarterly Critical Patch Update when it comes out, with newly named release updates and release update revisions for Oracle Database.

It will probably take a while for everyone to get used to the new approach -- including the question of whether to upgrade databases every year to stay current on the feature releases. For now, at least get used to the idea of Oracle Database 18, as that will be coming out before you know it. 

Next Steps

Data redaction comes to Oracle Database 12c

An overview of Oracle Database 12c RDBMS

Oracle databases consolidated via multi-tenant architecture

This was last published in August 2017

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What does an annual Oracle release cycle mean for your IT shop?
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Interesting timing, given that Microsoft is going to be doing the same thing as well (2012, 2014, 2016, and now 2017). The biggest problem, I suspect, is going to be fragmentation, and tools/books/etc not keeping up with it. (we see that already)
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