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Oracle releases new database, says 11g upgrade will cut costs

Oracle released its new 11g R2 database today. But will users embark on an Oracle 11g upgrade? And why should they?

After some 15 million hours of testing over the past nine months, Oracle today delivered the much anticipated Release 2 of its Oracle 11g database, containing more than 200 new features. The question is: Will all that work convince users to move over to 11g sooner rather than later?

Since Oracle shipped Release 1 of 11g two years ago, an estimated 10% to 15% of the company's mammoth installed base of database customers have upgraded to the 11g code base -- slightly less than analysts were expecting.

Some IT managers say they like much of what they have seen in Releases 1 and 2, but either they don't have the necessary funds to carry out the upgrade or they lack the manpower because much of their staff is bogged down in other projects.

"Sure, Oracle has added some nice things in the second release, from what I can see," said Eugene Lee, a database administrator with a large regional bank in Charlotte, N.C. But for the rest of this year and into next – or until this recession lets up -- I doubt we'll have the time or enough money budgeted to migrate from 10g. For right now, it [10g] is doing what we need it to do."

"There's nothing missing in [Oracle] 11g to stop us from upgrading. It is just that we have so many projects on our plate right now, so we don't have time," said Marie Mahony, vice president of financial operations and reporting for HBO. "For us, that is a 2010 or 2011 project."

With Release 2, Oracle appears intent on removing cost as a barrier for those who say they can't afford to upgrade any time soon.

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 "In approaching customers about this release, we talked about lowering their costs and then how they could also get technical improvements," said Mark Townsend, Oracle's vice president in charge of database product management.

One area where users with both host-based and departmental servers could save money with Release 2 is its Real Application Clusters (RAC) technology, according to Oracle. With RAC, users can consolidate distributed environments onto lower-cost clustered hardware systems.

"We were seeing more and more users with both bigger and smaller systems carrying out consolidation," Townsend said. "That is why in R2 we have a new plug-and-play grid capability to make it easier to set up clusters where we can add and remove nodes online."

Release 2 sports a new version of RAC called RAC One Node, which allows IT shops to RAC-enable a database on a single machine that is inside a grid. If that machine should fail, the database will automatically get restarted somewhere else on that grid.

"For instance, if you have a database on an existing machine that needs to be upgraded, you can temporarily start an active conversion of that database on another machine and then transition users over to it," Townsend said. "Once they are on the new machine, you perform the upgrade and then move them back. It is like a live migration."

Another new capability in Release 2 is Server Pooling, which allows administrators to assign different nodes in a grid to different types of database workloads based on their shops' specific requirements.

"Typically, machines are dedicated to front-office tasks, or back-office tasks, or data warehousing environments," Townsend said. "Now you can manage the allocation of resources across all of those based on your high availability and performance requirements. This way, you can better dynamically reconfigure your grid."

Oracle has also improved the storage capabilities in Release 2 as another way to save users money. Company officials said they have beefed up the product's partitioning and compression features, which now give users up to 12 times more storage than previous versions of the product.

Oracle has broadened out the product's automatic storage management capabilities to support not just information contained in databases but non-databases as well.

"People wanted to use this feature for non-database environments, so in R2 we have the ASM Cluster File system built on top of ASCM. Users can standardize on a single way of virtualizing that storage layer," Townsend explained.

Some analysts believe Oracle has succeeded on most fronts with Release 2 in terms of cutting down users' costs.

"The idea [behind Release 2] is to get better management of servers with RAC, get better compression with storage, and to get better overall management, all of which is tied to saving money. What they have done is smart -- tying all these new features to cost savings," said Donald Feinberg, vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner's Intelligence in the Information Infrastructure group.

"Organizations are facing exponential information growth throughout their data centers but are also looking to minimize costs," said Carl Olofson, research vice president with market researcher IDC. "I think some of Release 2's features to grid computing and storage management get greater utilization of their information management systems while making the system infrastructure and storage easier to manage and more affordable."

Another element that may encourage people to move to Release 2, Feinberg said, is the ability to house a test environment side by side with a production environment on the same machine. When an IT shop has completed testing of the new version, it can more easily move the data from the existing production machine over to the new version, sidestepping the costs of migration using two machines.

"Those hundreds of hours of resources to move from QA to production get removed, which should save companies lots of money in the resources needed for testing," Feinberg said.

Oracle continued its focus on improving productivity for database administrators in Release 2, according to Townsend, by adding a new compression "advisor" that tells people how much storage they can save, along with a new high-availability "advisor" that offers guidance on how to squeeze out the best performance and reliability.

"These [advisors] we have been adding the last few years change the relationship between the DB and the DBA somewhat," Townsend said. "For more modern DBAs, the DB is the mentor in the relationship." Release 2 is available today and can be downloaded from Oracle's Technology Network (OTN)

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