DB2 8.1 Beta Polishes Database

New release adds admin utilities, better uptime and Web services.

The first open beta of the next version of DB2 provides an early look at what IBM DB2 Universal Database Version 8.1 will include when it ships this fall.

eWeek Labs evaluated Beta 3 of Version 8.1 and found that the update fine-tunes DB2 in many areas, including administration, performance tuning, data warehousing, uptime and XML data handling. There arent any fundamental changes or major new components here, but current DB2 customers may find that some pain theyre experiencing will go away with the update.

We were disappointed, however, to see that Version 8.1 does not include Xperanto, IBMs full-on merger of XQuery (the XML query language) with DB2s relational storage engine. IBM officials said Xperanto will be released next year in a future DB2 version. (See Xperanto preview.)

DB2 currently uses SQL functions based on the SQLX (XML extensions for SQL) draft standard, which is based on older XPath work. "[SQLX] is not the best; XQuery is the best way," said Jeff Jones, director of strategy, IBM Data Management Solutions, in San Jose, Calif. "Our vision for DB2 is that it evolves to become bilingual on the query side—SQL and XQuery—and, underneath, has both relational and other storage mechanisms."

That DB2 future isnt here yet. However, there are three important XML improvements coming in DB2 8.1 that bring DB2 up-to-date with other XML standards work.

First, database administrators can now validate incoming XML files using XML Schema files instead of just Document Type Definition files; second, DB2 can transform XML data into a variety of output formats using Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation; third, DB2 will gain the ability to create a table that acts as a live gateway to data published by a Web service, making a Web service appear to be a normal relational database table.

Unfortunately, the Web services features will require software that comes with IBMs WebSphere Application Server Version 5, which ships this fall.

Oracle Corp.s Oracle9i Release 2 doesnt support XQuery, either, but its new native XML storage format (see review) provides a balance of XML document fidelity and performance that DB2 8.1 doesnt offer.