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BMC competes with Oracle to reduce DBA 'think time'

As Oracle threw the doors open to a DBA training lab at OracleWorld to show off new enterprise management tools, BMC Software countered with the release of enhancements to its own tools for database professionals working on multiple systems.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Enterprise management is taking center stage at OracleWorld at a time when DBAs are taking on greater responsibilities across systems that run a combination of database products from various vendors.

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On the exhibition floor, at DBA technical sessions, and inside Oracle's database training lab set up for the weeklong technology event, DBAs and their managers are seeking ways to stretch their talent so that less experienced -- and lower salaried -- DBAs can flex some muscle. Then veteran DBAs can work on tapping complex systems such as Oracle 9i for all their worth.

Again and again, Oracle gurus and guest lecturers made the point that most downtime can be attributed to "DBA think time": those minutes, or hours, when a DBA retraces their steps and searches for data that will tell them what their problem is.

Knowing this, Oracle has managed to generate plenty of excitement this week among DBAs with its improved Recovery Manager (RMAN) features, and Oracle Enterprise Manager 4.0, a release that features a new HTML console for end-to-end monitoring.

It's a solution, though, for the Oracle technology stack, and vendors such as BMC Software Inc. are targeting large enterprises running systems from competing vendors with new releases of evolutionary trademark products such as BMC's SQL-BackTrack and SmartDBA this week.

Houston-based BMC has Web-enabled its automated SQL-BackTrack by integrating it with its SmartDBA Web-based console. Other improvements include new business intelligence (BI) features in two tools, DBXray for Oracle and SQL-Explorer for Oracle.

BMC developers said the last SQL-BackTrack release was command-line driven and required more manual input than the newer, more intuitive version. With a click-and-point interface, DBAs can, for example, track user sessions, such as online customer transactions, and see applications they have executed, and table spaces they have accessed.

SQL-BackTrack and SmartDBA stretch across all platforms, and that's a key selling point for DBA managers like Michael Culp, who oversees about 100 databases for Ahold, the Zaanstad, Holland-based international food retailer. What gets Culp really pumped up, though, is the way the backup and recovery tools help him make the most of DBA talent.

"I've been able to use DBAs with multiple levels of experience to do the same task," Culp said. "I can take DBAs with almost zero experience and sit them down in front of this product and they can recover a database just as well as a 12-year DBA can because that thing is guiding them through the recovery process."

At his Greenville, S.C., location, Culp manages mostly Oracle databases, with Sybase and SQL Server databases scattered throughout, and runs BMC and Quest software. While he has been a BMC loyalist since 1993, Culp, speaking to SearchDatabase.com at OracleWorld, said he continually scouts the market to make sure the BMC solution is the best fit for his employer, an $80 billion global company.

"I get paid to fall in love with technology, not vendors," Culp said.

"We continually look to other vendors to see who is the best of breed," he said. "Just because we've been using the product for this period of time, it doesn't lock us into it. Obviously, we choose the product that reduces the amount of time it takes us to recover the databases, and back up the databases, and that is cost effective.

DBAs know that any technology competition is more like a game of leapfrog than a foot race, with vendors jumping over one another to produce the next best thing. In the arena of database management, Oracle's RMAN is gaining ground, Culp said.

"RMAN is coming close," said Culp, who gauged new product releases at OracleWorld to compare them to his BMC suite.

"It comes with Oracle 9i, and that's why it's coming up on the radar seen," Culp said. "So when management looks at RMAN, they see the ability to do recoveries without additional investment," he said. "Not being encumbered to a secondary database is a very strong pull for us, though, and BMC works across all platforms. I don't have a lot of Sybase and SQL Server out there, but I do have it, and the product works identically on all the platforms.

"Obviously," Culp said, "Oracle is not going to be supporting SQL Server.''

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