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Oracle database trends: Three questions for Rich Niemiec

Rich Niemiec identifies three major trends in the Oracle database world: grid computing, Oracle on Linux and the mixed-resource model.

We asked Rich Niemiec, Oracle expert and CEO of consulting firm TUSC, three questions based on his Collaborate '07 presentation titled "Three Major Trends in the Database World." Here are Niemiec's answers.

What are the three trends you've identified in the Oracle world?

TREND #1: Grid computing -- Oracle has been working on clustering technology since 1988 and Oracle6. They focused on it in Oracle9i and then mastered it and extended it with an offering of grid-related tools in Oracle 10g. Compared to shared-nothing and federated approaches, Oracle's grid technology is based on a single database with multiple instances (nodes), each with its own SGA doing part of the work and balancing the load for a scalable and available architecture. Since the amount of memory that can be allocated is the sum of all SGAs (nodes), you can have a memory resident database. Blocks of data can be shared over a high-speed interconnect between nodes when users on different nodes query the same information. Oracle's method of record manipulation at the block level developed over the years is what makes this hard to replicate by competitors. They started working on this new architecture at the block level in 1988 and have improved it over the past 19 years and it now is the basis for high-speed grid technology.

TREND #2: Linux -- Oracle on Linux has grown from 39% of the commercial database Linux market in 2002 to 69% of the commercial database Linux market in 2003 to 81% of the commercial database Linux market in 2004 based on a 2005 Gartner study. This trend shows two things. Oracle takes a market when they are focused on it (going from 39% to 81% over just two years), and secondly, Oracle is focused on the Linux market! In fact, my most recent numbers show Linux easily as the fastest-growing O/S for Oracle. This is no surprise to anyone that reads the trade journals. Oracle was the first commercial database to focus on Linux in 1998. In fact, I remember many surprised people when Larry said that he was moving all of Oracle's application servers to Linux well before the market even thought Linux was viable. But Larry also pushed the Internet well before others identified it as business-worthy in the mid-90s. The fact is, Larry and Oracle create the bend in the road, making Linux viable, taking the Internet to the next level and consolidating business applications to simplify the IT solution to business problems. Soon after Oracle announces the bend in the road, hardware and software vendors are creating the accompanying tools to complete the picture and competitors are left chasing the leader. Linux is also the best way to have a single O/S on all of your hardware. Grid computing gives it the scalability necessary for larger environments.

But don't write off Unix as it is still Oracle's #1 O/S. Linux holds eight of the top 10 TPC-H records (including the top record on HP BL480c running RedHat Linux) currently for a 300GB database size. This is a great database size and nice fit for Linux. The 1TB database record is on an HP Superdome running HPUX, and Linux only has four of the top 10 records for the 1TB database size. The top 3TB database record is on a Sun E25K running Solaris, and Linux only has two of the top 10 records. As the machines get bigger, pricier and built for large databases, Linux is not as prevalent. Linux has zero of the top 10 records on 10TB databases (see all of these at tpc.org). You can see that Linux is taking the low end of the market and working its way up, but it still has a ways to go at the upper end. At TUSC we continue to see both Linux and Unix, but many conversions we do are from Unix to Linux and Windows to Linux.

We're also seeing Linux at many more Oracle Applications customers than we used to see.

TREND #3: Mixed model of computing -- Is the world flat or just flatter for some of the companies? For the largest companies, some IT tasks are done inside the company, some are outside the company but they are done on-shore, and some are done outside the company and off-shore. The size of the company determines what level they can do in many cases. The larger you are, the more global you are and the flatter the world you live in. Smaller companies have been bitten by the hidden costs of off-shoring. This is a typical make-up where different models are beneficial:

Large companies:

Large IT Staff manages systems and leaders drive business goals; on-shore outside firm used for expert level "boutique" specialized work; on-shore outside firm used for augmentation with large projects on site; off-shore work for repetitive conversion and "boxed" tasks.

Midsized companies:

Small IT staff levels focus on driving business goals and lead growth projects; on-shore outsourcing firm does maintenance tasks and repetitive tasks.

Small companies:

Business goals are driven from inside the company with no IT staff; applications are "bought not built" and rarely customized; outsource maintenance and all IT-related tasks.

Cost relief comes from having strategic items done by in-house resources with expert influence and knowledge of the company, but limited inside work on maintenance or repetitive tasks.

You believe that Oracle is the #1 database in the world. Why?

Oracle made many of the right moves over the past 30 years and has gained a majority of the world's business market as database customers. Its database is substantially faster and more complete today and it had been for the past 20 years. Oracle continues to pace itself a decade ahead of the closest competitor. It also has had the right customers over the past 20 years, which has helped it to build a database solution that focuses on all of the needs that business customers have. No other database vendor will ever get that opportunity in the foreseeable future -- Oracle got it because they were first and stayed first for 30 years.

Things are moving more toward the business applications now. Oracle has acquired many of the key players in the business world (PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Hyperion, Retek and Siebel to name only a few) while the market was depressed. Oracle also acquired some key players in the security world (Oblix) as well as the key middleware vendors. Oracle is the only company with the complete solution so that a business customer can go to a single vendor without any finger pointing or going outside the stack.

Oracle products are beginning to march in step and soon there will be no worthy adversary. Oracle's database is also built for business intelligence and other vendors continue to rely on the Oracle database for the performance required to crunch through the enormous data that is growing exponentially. I've seen every hardware vendor pushing Oracle first.

I've also never seen Oracle caught from behind in the two decades I've followed them as a company. I don't see anyone close now ... in fact, Oracle is extending its gains over a very good SAP company in the applications world and also over its good competition in the database world.

How is Oracle dealing with competition from open source?

I think Oracle is a decade or more ahead of open source databases from a complete solution standpoint and two decades ahead of some. Most of Oracle's advantages come at the record level and block level and how transactions are processed when multiple people are changing or inserting records into the same physical block while they are also querying the same records. Oracle also has advantages when you look at the complete solution with things like Flashback at the transaction or database level, Data Guard for disaster recovery, hot backups that are well ahead of the competition, online redefinition of objects like indexes, Real Application Clusters (RAC) built with an advantage that has not been replicated and will not be easily copied at the interconnect level, Grid Control features that stretch the advantages of RAC, mature parallel processing to improve performance, and an optimizer that borders on artificial-intelligence levels of sophistication (and will be even better in 11g), and a self-healing database that will tune everything itself (again better yet in 11g).

Oracle has made offensive moves with the acquisition of InnoDB (the engine that used to run MySQL), Sleepycat Software (Berkeley DB -- over 200 million deployments) and TimesTen (In Memory Database -- very fast), as well as offering unbreakable support for Linux and potentially considering support for MySQL. Many business users that I've talked to are in favor of having a company like Oracle provide them the large company support for any open source products that they use. They are used to Oracle's support which became much better with the advent of Metalink years ago and matured since. Open source and this movement is yet to play out completely in the market, though, and a lot will happen on both sides before the dust settles. Oracle always embraces what's new, so I don't see them backing away from open source -- I would expect them to continue to embrace it, albeit carefully.

Oracle has also made defensive moves with the offering of the free Express Edition Oracle. If you need a free version of a database, Oracle offers the Express Edition of Oracle absolutely free. The limitations are 1 CPU, 1GB of RAM, 4GB database maximum and it can be installed on any size machine. Microsoft and IBM have also offered a free Express Edition of their database which also will lessen the effect of the open source database. Once things get larger, it will be easier to move to the industrial-strength Oracle.

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