Updating databases isnt minor surgery. From what I hear, its nowhere near as traumatic as updating an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which can take months of patching and testing patches and testing the patches upon which the patches rely.
But still, as evidenced by the many users who said “fine by me” when Microsoft recently revealed that its SQL Server 2005 database release would be delayed, not many database administrators want to go through this hairy process more often than is absolutely necessary.
Because its a serious project, whenever a major new database release comes out, one of the first things we want to know is what the early testers think of it. We want to know its stability, what kind of high-availability metrics we can get out of it, its ease of installation, whether it delivers on the ease of manageability the major database vendors are promising, and whatever else we can glean.
The problem is, getting good, unvarnished feedback from beta testers isnt always easy. But a number of readers took the time to point out to me that getting feedback on IBMs beta of its upcoming DB2 update, code-named “Stinger,” from VA Software and putting that in a recent column wasnt much smarter than going straight to IBM sales and expecting something besides a sales pitch.
Thats because VA Software is actually in an alliance with IBM. It derives much of its income from Big Blue. I knew that, so I have no intention of shifting blame elsewhere.
The reason I wanted to get input from them on Stinger was because VA Software is heavily involved with the open-source community (it handles the Web sites for the Open-Source Development Network, which runs sites such as Slashdot and NewsForge, for example).
What with Stingers support for the 2.6 Linux kernel, I wanted to check in with that community to get a reading on how well IBM is doing in staking out a claim as the database of choice for Linux.
What I should have done, though, was to delve deeper into that broad community and find a more unquestionably unbiased source, and for that I apologize. I also should have made clear the relationship between VA Software and IBM. Again, my apologies.
Unvarnished beta tester input
Since that error, Ive managed to speak to a few more Stinger beta testers, whose input I take to be balanced and which I hope will provide some of the valuable feedback we all need as we consider the major surgery that a database update will entail.
One such beta user is Tim Kuchlein, director of information systems at Clarity Payment Solutions Inc., which is in the process of deploying an on-demand infrastructure using 64-bit DB2 on JS-20 blades Linux on POWER.
According to Kuchlein, the biggest appeal of Stinger is that its the first database engine IBM released that will run on these new JS-20 blades. Because the blade center allows for many more machines in a much smaller space, what with their vertical alignment, plus the fact that the blade center comes with its networking and power infrastructure built right in, Clarify is going to be able to add a lot more memory a lot more easily down the line.
If they need more processing power, Kuchlein can go out and buy a P Series box. Everything will be binary-compatible, so hell be able to take the code written for one machine and put it in another without any glitches.
Theres a good chance that Clarity and other businesses will need to go down that path as data centers grow. Clarity, which was seeing 15 percent growth monthly a few months back, last month saw data growth hit 40 percent. In the last 20 days of April, it was at 20 percent.
Obviously, the companys seeing some pretty substantial growth in terms of data-storage requirements. “Having some head room is something were very interested in,” Kuchlein told me. Of course, with the data deluge now entering our databases from Internet sources, most businesses are likely facing similar situations.
Clustering in Stinger
Kuchleins also interested in the Stinger release for the high-availability features promised by its database clustering technology. Initially, hes looking at a simple active/passive setup, where one database server can pick up from the other in the case of a failure.
Hes not currently looking at a more involved cluster situation in which multiple nodes form a path to a larger database instance and thus doesnt have to worry about modifying applications. Things do get tricky when you have to partition data across multiple nodes.
Often, users have to modify applications to guarantee that distribution of data happens the way they want it to happen—i.e., distribute the data such that all of the transactions for customer X wind up on one node, for example.
The autonomic features in Stinger are also reportedly much improved. The database engine has been made smarter and is freer to allocate resources as it sees fit. Thats a 24×7 engine, folks, and the difference between it and DBAs is that it doesnt need sleep.
Another time/drudgery saver is that the next version of DB2 will be smart enough to know when it needs to update certificates. It knows how many updates, inserts and deletes are occurring against tables, and it can figure out when it needs to update—removing one more thing from the list of what DBAs have to worry about.
Kuchlein didnt have much to say about the business-intelligence software included in Stinger, but he told me theyd probably look at it down the road when they have a free five minutes. He opined that BI is one of those many things where were seeing more hype than ROI.
One issue he has with BI software is the hassle of keeping production and reporting systems in sync, for example. IBMs Patricia Selinger pointed out to me that Stinger offers the option of keeping data in one place, though, so perhaps things will change at Clarity when Kuchlein has those five minutes to spare.
The command-line interface was the one sticking point in Stinger, as far as Kuchlein is concerned. What hed like to see is auto-completion and the ability to edit commands instead of having to stick oft-used commands into a script, which is “a bit of a pain in the ass.”
Conversely, another beta user I talked with credited Stingers GUI tools with weaning him off of his command-line addiction. Philip Nelson of ScotDB Ltd., a database consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland, has steered clear of the GUI tools since DB2 Version 6, in which they were “just dreadful,” he told me.
Each year, he goes to the International DB2 Users Group conference—and each year he complains about the GUI tools—and finally, finally theyre getting better, what with the Design Center now being a “good, useful tool to have.” Still, he said, he sometimes thinks IBMs lab people forget that not everybodys running the fastest hardware. The GUI tools are a Java application, and when youre running an old laptop, Java can be a bit slow.
Command-line clunkiness and GUI tool kludginess: Theyre not deal breakers, but at least with feedback thats a little negative, we know were hearing from unbiased beta testers.