IBMs DB2 Raises Bar for Manageability

Tools make update stronger in mission-critical environments.

The latest release of DB2, IBMs flagship database, strengthens its ability to stay able-bodied and available under demanding workloads and through administrative changes that previously disrupted service.

DB2 8.1—there is no Version 8.0—started shipping late last month and provides a number of fit-and-finish and performance updates to the products core engine, as well as new management and development tools.

Although there arent any changes in this version that could shake up the database market, DB2 continues to offer a healthy combination of great cross-platform support, a midrange price and an excellent feature set that only Oracle Corp.s Oracle9i can match. (We give Oracle the edge right now, but the two trade places regularly.)

We tested DB2 8.1 Enterprise Server Edition. The previously sold clustering version of DB2, called DB2 Enterprise Edition-Extended, which supports shared-nothing multimachine database clustering for scalability, is no longer a stand-alone DB2 version. Instead, its an option for Enterprise Server Edition that costs an extra $7,500 per CPU. Enterprise Server Edition is priced at $25,000 per CPU (with unlimited numbers of user connections).

This is definitely getting closer to Oracle pricing territory—Oracle9i Release 2 Enterprise Edition costs $40,000 per CPU. We encourage organizations to investigate the much-less-expensive DB2 Workgroup Server Edition (at $999 per server and $249 for each concurrent or named user) or DB2 Workgroup Server Unlimited Edition ($7,500 per CPU for unlimited users).

Both versions of Workgroup Server are limited to a maximum of four CPUs but provide the same sophisticated database engine as the enterprise edition and still support such mission-critical options as database failover. A single-user version of DB2 8.1 is available for $369 for desktops.

All these versions of DB2 include special extensions to support storage of XML, image, video and audio data. DB2s XML support is competitive with that of Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server and Sybase Inc.s ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise), but Oracle has the lead here, with deeply integrated XML support in Oracle9i Release 2. However, for connecting to relational database sources, DB2 has the best support for heterogeneous data gateways.

DB2 is Web services-ready but requires IBMs WebSphere application server as a front end. Wed like to see Web service integration pieces provided with DB2 directly as a Microsoft or Apache Software Foundation Web server plug-in. Extra-cost options are also available for text search (we think this feature should be part of the core product), as well as spatial data, external file management, data warehousing, data mining and online analytical processing.

Version 8.1 of DB2 shows the first significant fruits of IBMs efforts to create server products that are cheaper and simpler to deploy and maintain. More than 50 configuration parameters that previously required a database restart can now be set dynamically without disconnecting users. (Roughly 100 parameter changes still require a server restart.)

Data can be loaded into tables without a table space lock, although data in the table must be accessed as read-only during the load; tables and indices can be reordered online now, too.

Those doing analysis or reporting will value a new multidimensional clustering feature that automatically physically organizes data on more than one key, an impressive technological accomplishment. (Competitors support only data organization using a single key through a clustered index.)

A number of significant new tools make it easier to manage DB2 databases: Health Center provides monitoring of a large set of server statistics and automatically e-mailed us when performance thresholds were crossed in the database; Memory Visualizer provides a nice graphical breakdown of how DB2 is using memory; and Development Center (see screen, Page 48) offers a single place to create database-stored procedures and user-defined functions (which act as virtual tables).

Version 8.1 includes support for data compression—something that will save space but only for column defaults and nulls. Oracle9i, in contrast, supports compression of all repeated values.

On the security front, DB2 makes encrypting database columns simple. Key management is good—the encryption key can be specified once per connection instead of in every call to the encryption routine. We could also store a password hint with encrypted text, a user-friendly feature.

However, Oracle9i and Sybase ASE offer a row-level declarative security model that is more powerful and expressive than DB2s (or Microsoft SQL Servers) use of views for row-level access controls. Oracle and Sybase also support Enterprise JavaBeans right in the database, a task that DB2 defers to WebSphere.

West Coast Technical Director Timothy Dyck is at