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Oracle database upgrades require soul searching

Database expert Noel Yuhanna talks about the benefits and challenges of upgrading early.

Oracle database management system (DBMS) upgrades are complex, often-painful operations. But completing upgrades successfully means gaining access to the newest database features and functionality. The question is: Do you really need that added functionality? caught up with Noel Yuhanna, an IT industry analyst and resident database expert with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., to find out whether he thinks users are eager to upgrade to the latest version of Oracle's flagship DBMS -- Oracle Database 11g. Yuhanna also talked about the benefits of upgrading early and explained how increased database automation is affecting database administrators (DBAs). Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Are Oracle customers eager to upgrade to Oracle Database 11g?

Noel Yuhanna: I think there has been some adoption, and I think that has to do with the many good, new features in 11g. But I think it's still too early to [predict the levels] of adoption we'll see. Normally, enterprises start upgrading about a year after a major release, and it hasn't been a year yet. I think [Database 11g Release 2] will be the most important [in that when it comes out] enterprises will start to look at upgrading their databases to 11g.

Aside from a fear of downtime, what are some of the chief reasons why companies are slow to upgrade database systems these days?

Yuhanna: The problem I think right now is that database technologies are mature, and you may have another 10,000 features coming out, but the question is: Do you really need those 10,000 new features? Sometimes you don't, right? So, normally, the basic features are good enough for most applications. It's just that there could be some advanced applications or complex applications that may need some of the new features. I think that a lot of customers are staying with older versions just because it's good enough for them and they don't need sophisticated additional features. That's one angle that we've seen from a customer's point of view.

More on software upgrades:

With software upgrades, pain leads to gain

Oracle software upgrades require careful planning

Do you think the Oracle Database has too many features for its own good?

Yuhanna: It's just like when you buy a car and you have all these new knobs in the dashboard. Do you really use all of those knobs? Eighty percent of the time you don't need the advanced features. That's what we've seen.

What are the chief advantages of upgrading to a new database version like Oracle 11g?

Yuhanna: I think the real advantage of the new releases is that the automation and manageability of these databases is improving quite a lot. I think that's necessary because enterprises are now dealing with thousands and thousands of these enterprise databases out there. This means that you need to have better manageability, you need to have automation and simplification in these environments. And that's coming in the newer releases. With the older releases, you really had to struggle in managing some of these database environments.

I've often heard Oracle executives and IT industry analysts say that database automation isn't going to be the death of the DBA. Instead, they say automation frees up DBAs to focus on more strategic issues. Have you seen this latter scenario playing out in enterprises?

Yuhanna: Automation, I think, is very essential today. If you look at what DBAs did 10 years ago, they used to spend 60% of the time tuning the application. Now, that's down to 25% of the time. Why? Because automation is really improving their position by simplifying some of the SQL statements and making it much more automated. That trend is going to continue in the coming years.

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