There are a large number of operations that can take a long time to complete. If your database server has more than one CPU, it can be desirable to farm out a piece of the total work to each CPU. For instance, on a four CPU machine, it would be nice if all four CPUs were actively creating 1/4 of the total index rather than one CPU create the entire index. In this manner, the index pieces can be created in essentialy 1/4 of the time. All that is needed is one final step in putting all of the pieces together to form the whole. That, in a nutshell, is parallelism in Oracle (i.e performing the operation in pieces, in parallel to speed up the operation execution time).
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