The Years Database Delights and Disasters

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2003-12-19

The Years Database Delights and Disasters

What a year. Scarcely a day went by without fun and excitement in Database Land. If we werent racing to patch SQL Server systems (that should have already been patched, in a perfect universe) as fast as Slammer knocked them down, we were witnessing Oracle CEO Larry Ellisons persistent pawing at PeopleSoft.

Those two items grabbed their share of headlines over the past year, with just cause. But other big things happened with less ink being spilled on them. Heres my biased list of the years best and worst, including both the big headlines and the many news events that will have far-reaching impact on enterprises even if they didnt rate Page 1 coverage.

The Worst: Slammer. At the peak of its late January strike, Slammer (aka Sapphire) was sending nearly 8,000 packets per minute at almost 4,000 target IP addresses, according to The Sans Institute. As recently as the June TechEd conference, big-name customers such as Continental Airlines were demanding that Microsoft take responsibility for leaving ports open. With systems crashing across the world, repercussions included a South Korean civic group that sued Microsoft after many of the countrys ISPs were knocked offline for extended periods of time.

The Best: Slammer. Slammer was undeniably destructive, but its onslaught underscored the importance of installing patches in a timely manner. After all, Slammer exploited a known vulnerability for which Microsoft had long had a patch. Even though IT groups were, and are, overworked and understaffed, Slammer was a proof point that enterprises had to be more careful, particularly when guarding sensitive data.

Another positive that came out of Slammer was the fact that Microsoft is still working on securing Yukon, the code-name for the next version of SQL Server. Originally slated for release in the spring of 2004, Microsoft postponed the release after customers told the company that they wanted a "rock-solid" product, according to Stan Sorensen, Microsofts director of SQL Server product management.

The Best: Yukons Delay. Far from being annoyed at the delay, users were glad to hear theyd be getting a more secure product. "I am not entirely surprised at the Yukon delay, and I actually welcome it," said Daniel Mross, a database administrator at FreeMarkets Inc. "Remember Windows 95? NT 4.0? I would rather that the product undergoes extensive testing than to release it to market just because of a promised date."

Analysts agree that the Yukon delay is good news and points to delivery of a more secure product. "Obviously, theyre taking security very seriously and ensuring everything gets protected and safeguarded before they roll out Yukon," said Noel Yuhanna, an analyst for Giga Information Group. "Hopefully, it will be a more secure database than any other release."

Next page: A year full of promising product announcements.

The years product highlights

The Best: The Yukon announcement itself. Get ready for Microsofts jump into the realm of enterprise databases. Support for Transact-SQL, Visual Basic .Net and Visual C# .Net; support for XQuery and XML; and better tools-developing applications will be welcome enhancements. Add in better security, reliability and availability, and maybe soon well see a SQL Server iteration that manages to avoid getting laughed at by Oracle DBAs. Although that seems to be happening already—witness Microsofts first-ever placing in Winter Corp.s Top 10 Databases program, with Verizons SQL Server hitting sixth place in size for all environments at 5.3 terabytes and nabbing the top slot for transaction-processing databases on the Windows platform.

The Best: 64-Bit Databases. Microsoft rolled out SQL Server 2000 for 64-bit at the Windows Server 2003 launch, with new TPC results ranking SQL Server 2000 (64-bit) with Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition as No. 1 in two benchmarks. Oracle also rolled out Oracle9i Database Release 2 on 32- and 64-bit Windows Server 2003. Obviously, with AMDs release of its 64-bit Opteron and Intels Itanium and Itanium 2 processors, buying big boxes that run fast chips got far more affordable this past year.

The Best: Oracle 10g. Oracles focus on grid computing, grid computings promise of lower costs through use of commodity hardware, plus the companys focus on Linux all promise to save enterprises money. Time will tell if the consulting services necessary to implement 10g will offset the hardware savings. But if 10gs automated features work as well as theyre doing now in beta, consulting shouldnt be a big money pit.

Click here to read about Oracle 10g automation.

Next page: Fun with RAC crashes and price wars.

RAC crashes and price


The Worst: The Orbitz RAC Crash. The travel site Orbitz blamed Oracles RAC (Real Application Clusters) technology when its site crashed and stayed down for an entire day in July. RAC credibility nose-dived as Orbitz de-installed and removed the technology from its environment like it was yesterdays fish. All you can do in a moment like that, with the tinkle of falling glass echoing in your ears, is feel sorry for Oracles security top gun, Mary Ann Davidson. Imagine having to deal with the aftermath of creating a marketing campaign that claims a product is "unbreakable"—as if there is such a thing.

The Best: Price Wars. OK, maybe it wasnt a price war per se, but it was nice to see IBM cutting the entry-level price on DB2 UDB, as it released IBM DB2 Universal Database Express Edition for Linux and Windows Version 8.1. The simple, quiet, self-installing, skinny version of DB2 lost clustering, data warehousing, data mining and other business intelligence features, including Intelligent Miner and IBMs DB2 OLAP Server. But it still supports XML, Web Services, Java and Microsofts .Net. Best of all, it came cheap: $499 for a base server package, plus $99 per user. Microsoft already owns the SMB market, but Oracle had to react, and react it did, coming out recently with an under-$1,000 offering. The offering, Oracle Standard Edition One, can run on a single processor. It costs $5,995 or $195 per user with a minimum of five users, so companies can get away with a $975 Oracle database. With Oracle Database 10g pricing sticking to the same—i.e., really, really expensive—pricing as previous iterations, its nice to have an Oracle option for which you dont have to hock the children.

Next page: Glad tidings of open source good cheer.

Glad tidings of open


The Best: MySQL, The Mouse That Roared. MySQL AB had an astoundingly good year—and when youre talking about a database thats open source, a good year for MySQL is a good year for us all. The highlights of the year include the companys having partnered with SAP to take over that companys open-source database, now named MaxDB. This is MySQLs answer to customers requests for an enterprise-level database, and its a welcome one. Other good news for MySQL and its fans came this week when Reasoning Inc., a software inspection service provider, released a study of MySQL code that found a measly 21 errors in 236,000 lines of code. Compare that to proprietary databases, which contain 0.57 code errors per thousand lines of code, and its obvious that the open-source paradigm blows away that of closed, proprietary code.

Its the end of the year and were all getting woozy on eggnog and company bowling parties, so lets indulge ourselves and state the obvious: It just makes sense that when you have thousands of minds which you regularly unleash on a code set, that code set is going to come out spanking clean. Hurray for MySQL, hurray for the open-source community, and hurray for the DBAs whove convinced government bodies and commercial enterprises to go the open-source route.

Thats my list. I could have mentioned Veritas acquisition of Precise, which is an interesting shifting of gears from storage management into software management. Neither did I mention the welcome slew of heterogeneous support that came out from tool vendors such as BMC, Quest and Computer Associates.

Finally, theres one huge omission in this list: Oracles pursuit of PeopleSoft, a saga thats clogged our brains, our newspapers and our industry sites for months that have seemed like years. How could I not mention this epic war between software behemoths?

Easily. Consider the omission my holiday gift to you, and check out our Special Report on Oracle vs. PeopleSoft if youre a glutton for punishment.

Have a wonderful, safe holiday, and let me know what you would have included on this list by mailing me at

Database Center Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.

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