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'Unlearning' with Database 10g Release 2

Mastering Oracle Database 10g Release 2 means forgetting many of the manual tasks that DBAs often take for granted, according to Oracle honcho Mark Townsend.

The newly unveiled Oracle Database 10g Release 2 offers enhanced automated features designed to ease the burden of statistics collection and analysis. caught up with Mark Townsend, Oracle's senior director of database product management, to discuss these new features, as well as the changing role of the DBA. Townsend responded to some sharp criticism of Oracle's automation efforts and said the key to learning the many automated nuances of 10g Release 2 is "unlearning" some of the tasks that DBAs used to take for granted. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

Can you explain the evolution of automated statistics in Database 10g?

If we can remove the drudgery and the housekeeping ... than [DBAs] can actually add the value because they understand the business and they understand the data. 
Mark Townsend,
senior director of database product managementOracle Corp.

Mark Townsend: In 10g Release 1 one of the key things we did in the database was that, wherever we could, if it was a housekeeping task, we would automate it. One of the things that the database needs to understand how to access data is a good set of statistics around the tables. How volatile is this table? How often is it changing? Is there a big skew in the data? Are all my customers in Boston and very few of them in California, etc. Statistics gathering of that data has always been a manual activity. In 10g Release 1 we made that completely automatic. The database itself knows what data has been added. It knows from the queries that it's executing at the time it will automatically collect the right statistics that it needs.

The other thing we did with 10g Release 1 is we completely instrumented the database. At anytime you can actually log onto the database and say, 'Show me exactly what's happening. What users are connecting? How are they executing their SQL statements? What memory is being used? Where is my I/O going?' And most databases have that ability to tell you what is happening now. What we did with 10g Release 1 is that not only did we have that information for now, but we have seven days of history. If users run to you on Thursday and say, 'Our performance was real crap last Tuesday,' you can go back and see what's happening. You don't have to wait for perhaps those same set of events to come out before you can diagnose the problem. But that's not the reason why we added that. The reason why we added that by default is because the database is continually analyzing itself. It's analyzing that back story and making predictions. … We call it ADAM, that's automated diagnostics and monitoring.

How has ADAM been updated in Release 2?

Townsend: In 10g Release 2, we're starting to improve that. For example, in Release 2 it's starting to look at the way the system is paging and it will actually take paging into its analysis, etc. We're just adding more and more capabilities to that analysis.

I talked to some database professionals at the recent International Oracle Users Group conference, and some expressed criticism of Oracle's automation efforts. One said, "Every time a new tool comes out, we end up having to learn how to fix the tool." What's your response to that?

Townsend: The biggest problem we've had with that, to be honest, is that with 10g for a lot of the DBAs it's a matter of them actually walking away from what they know. The database does have intelligence built into it. A lot of the DBAs are looking at that. Now, obviously, if you're a DBA and you're responsible for the overall throughput of your system, you've got service level agreements, etc. You're not going to be a very good DBA if you're just going to say, 'No, I'm not going to do that stuff.' So, you're going to spend the six to nine to 12 months, where people have been at the moment, basically shadowing what the database is doing and doing due diligence about the types of decisions it's making.

What we're seeing from that is that people are actually very, very happy. We've sort of been through that. We have close to between 15% and 20% of the installed base moved up into production on 10g. Over the next 12, we'll see that additional 30% to 40% come through. They're starting now to unlearn all the stuff that they thought they had to do before.

More on Database 10g Release 2:

Database 10g Release 2 preview

Database 10g patch complexity could lead to more automation

Is the DBA going away?

Townsend: No. The problem that we've got is we've got this huge problem in the industry. If you look at just the amount of data that's managed, there are two things that are growing out there. Firstly, we're managing more information than we've ever managed before. Everything now is becoming managed information. Not only that, but also with compliance we're managing that information for a much longer period of time. We're expected to go back and find data that we had seven to 15 years ago now. The number of bytes under management and for the amount of time is actually growing almost exponentially. In terms of skilled DBAs, their numbers are actually declining, because with all these baby boomers [are starting to retire].

If we can remove the drudgery and the housekeeping and the stuff that can be automated for them, than [DBAs] can actually add the value because they understand the business and they understand the data. The DBAs can move away from fighting fires and actually move into helping the customers' bottom line. If you're going to start building data warehouses and running real-time enterprises and doing business intelligence, it's the DBAs that are the link between the data that you've got and the way company uses that data.

How will the profile of the DBA change in the future?

Townsend: They'll be changing almost away from mechanics to becoming race car drivers. They're going to allow the business to actually use the information that they've been collecting for 10 or 15 years.

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