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Oracle shows off Database 11g

Touting a host of new self-management features, Oracle previewed its long-awaited Database 11g at an event in New York City today.

Database 11g, the long-awaited overhaul of Oracle's flagship database management system (DBMS), made its official debut today. But the software isn't available for download yet.

Database 11g, which is entering the market after a nine-month beta testing period, offers a host of fully automated features, new testing-related capabilities, better overall performance, and many other new capabilities that are in line with the release's key themes of "innovation" and "change management," according to Oracle.

"Oracle has invested heavily into self-tuning capabilities, including automated storage and memory management and intelligent tuning advisors," said Donald K. Burleson, a well-known independent Oracle consultant. "Now, in 11g, Oracle closes the loop and offers intelligent automation tools to create a self-healing database. The most important 11g new automation features include fully automated memory tuning and fully automated SQL tuning, a major advance in database technology."

Oracle executives led by Charles Phillips, company president, were set to demonstrate Database 11g at an event in New York City today. Database 11g is the company's first major DBMS revamp since it released Database 10g about four years ago. Oracle said the software will be commercially available on Linux sometime in August. Release dates for Database 11g on Microsoft Windows and other platforms have not been announced.

Database 11g features and functionality

Database 11g offers nearly 500 new features covering a wide range of areas, including manageability, high availability, scalability, infrastructure, content management, and business intelligence.

"Probably the most important [new feature] is our Real Application Testing capability," said Robert G. Shimp, a vice president with Oracle's global technology business unit. "This allows us to dramatically shrink the time it takes for a customer to do a database upgrade."

Oracle says the system offers enhanced self-management and automated features designed to help organizations manage enterprise grids and deliver on service-level agreements. Key among them are automatic SQL and memory tuning.

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Jeff S. Buelt, the director of information technology at Pro Staff, a Minneapolis-based temporary staffing firm that runs several versions of Oracle, says features like automatic SQL tuning will be a welcome change when the time comes to upgrade.

Andy Mendelsohn, Oracle's senior vice president of database server technologies, said other new features in Database 11g, such as enhanced partitioning and storage-related capabilities, were created to help organizations deal with the dramatic growth in data resulting from relatively new data-retention regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley.

Along those lines, Database 11g offers enhanced data compression capabilities. Experts point out that compressing data could have an overhead in terms of performance. But they add that the performance cost is probably negligible compared to the storage-related savings.

"The sizes of databases are growing exponentially [and] the whole cost of storage is getting out of control," Mendelsohn said. "By using a combination of our partitioning technologies -- what we call Information Lifecycle Management -- and our compression technologies, you can go from in the order of a million-dollar storage system down to $50,000, or something of that sort."

Database 11g also offers Database Replay and SQL Replay capabilities, which give users a better understanding of how database changes affect SQL performance.

"The Database Replay basically provides the ability to replay the workload from production onto test environments," said Noel Yuhanna, a database analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "It really minimizes some of these challenges and issues which customers are having around application deployments. We believe that around 20% of applications typically fail because [proper] testing is not there, and the Database Replay mitigates this risk."

Database 11g's newly included Oracle Data Guard technology lets companies use their standby systems to improve performance in production environments while providing protection from system failures and disasters, according to Oracle. The technology enables users to take snapshots of database systems for testing, reporting, backups and rolling upgrades.

Oracle Database 11g will also offer significant new XML-related features and enhancements. Oracle says the main XML features focus on XML DB, the company's XML storage and retrieval technology, and they include a new binary XML data type, a new XML index, and enhanced support for XQuery and other emerging standards. Oracle expert Donald Burleson wrote that Database 11g provides support for schema-based Document Type Definitions, which let users describe the structure of XML documents.

Some other new Database 11g features include Quick Fault Resolution, the ability to automatically retain all the diagnostics related to a fault; online table and index redefinition; Database Repair Advisor, a wizard that helps DBAs deal with the fault diagnosis and resolution process; a new high-performance Large Objects infrastructure; native Java and PL/SQL compilers; and a re-engineered driver for PHP.

An Oracle and Microsoft role reversal?

Oracle is big with large companies, but hopes the fully automated features of Database 11g will help it achieve greater mindshare among smaller organizations, a market dominated by Microsoft SQL Server, according to industry experts. Meanwhile, they say, Microsoft is hoping to push SQL Server further into the high end of the market.

"SQL Server is driving up, Oracle is driving down," Burleson said. "And part of that drive-down that Oracle is doing in 11g is putting artificial intelligence in the database. That's where I think that Oracle is going to beat the daylights out of SQL Server."

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