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Oracle overhauls Sleepycat's original Berkeley DB

The new version of Berkeley DB, the embeddable database Oracle acquired along with open source stalwart Sleepycat Software, promises better performance and the ability to do upgrades on the fly. But does Oracle really have open source street credibility?

Oracle today unveiled a new version of Berkeley DB, the lightweight, non-relational and embeddable database management system (DBMS) that the firm acquired when it purchased open source stalwart Sleepycat Software Inc. back in February.

Oracle says that Berkeley DB 4.5, the newest version of the original DBMS offered by Sleepycat in the early 1990s, has been enhanced to provide developers improved performance through multi-version concurrency control (MVCC), the ability to do upgrades on the fly, and better ease of use through prefabricated replication templates.

But while Oracle has made several moves in the open source market over the past year and before that played a major role in driving the adoption of the open source Linux operating system, at least one analyst says that the company is not a major open source contributor in the traditional sense.

Features and functionality

Rex Wang, Oracle's vice president of embedded systems marketing, explained that MVCC in a nutshell improves the performance of highly concurrent systems -- systems with multiple readers and writers -- by giving each of the readers its own snapshot of the database.

"Instead of a writer grabbing a portion of the database and somehow blocking it or locking it, what we do is … allow readers to access their own snapshot," Wang said. "There is no blocking that happens and there is greater concurrency that can be achieved."

More on Oracle and Sleepycat:

Oracle unveils new version of open source Berkeley DB Java edition

SleepyCat CEO: Oracle deal an attempt to disrupt MySQL

Wang said that the Berkeley DB's newly enhanced "replication framework" speeds up the development process by providing a pre-built set of functions for building replicated systems.

Berkeley DB's newly enhanced "non-stop upgrades" feature lets a Berkeley DB system be upgraded without downtime.

"This is for telecommunications and network providers or any kind of on-demand or software-as-a-service kind of business that has an application that can never go down," Wang said.

Oracle and industry experts point out that Berkeley DB is designed to be a lightweight, embeddable database that doesn't require much tweaking by database administrators once installed.

Wang said that Berkeley DB is ideal for situations where database access patterns are predictable and a developer can write a program to access data as opposed to making use of an expressive query language like SQL.

"It's a very fast and lightweight product," Wang said, "but in some applications lightweight is preferred."

Anne Thomas Manes, a research director with the Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, added that Berkeley DB is "kind of a low end" database without all of the capabilities you'd expect from more fully featured offerings, such as multi-step transaction support.

"It's really an advanced file system kind of thing," she said.

Wang said that pricing for the commercial Berkeley DB license starts at about $750 per processor. Continuing a model pioneered by Sleepycat, Berkeley DB is also available under a free open source license that comes with usage restrictions.

Berkeley DB 4.5 is the second Sleepycat product to be updated since Oracle purchased Sleepycat. Oracle unveiled a new version of Berkeley DB Java Edition back in May. Oracle says it won't be long before Sleepycat's third and final product, Berkeley DB XML, gets a makeover as well.

Gauging Oracle's open source 'street cred'

Manes said that although Oracle's decision to support open source Linux went a long way toward driving the adoption of that platform in recent years, Oracle has not been a major contributor to the open source movement as a whole -- at least not in the traditional sense, which involves contributing new code or open source applications.

"They don't do an awful lot of open source stuff," Manes said of Oracle. "What they have done… is that they beefed up Linux because they use Linux as a platform."

The analyst went on to say that Oracle's decision to acquire Innobase, the Finnish open source company that provided a key component of Oracle-rival MySQL's database technology, could be construed as downright hostile by the open source world.

Manes concluded: "I view Oracle as a user of open source as opposed to a provider of open source."

Do you think Oracle has been a positive contributor to the open source movement? Why or why not? Email your comments to news editor Mark Brunelli and he'll likely contact you for a follow-up story.

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