Oracles New Edge

Oracle9i hones Swiss Army Knife database strategy.

Oracle Corp.s corporate strategy is to make its database be all things to all people, an approach that has produced the Swiss Army Knife of data management. In eWeek Labs tests of Oracle9i Database, we found a database that will probably do everything organizations ask of it and likely more besides. However, its also a big, complex product that requires highly trained administrators, high-end hardware and a fat wallet, and we found mixed levels of maturity and quality from component to component in the product.

Organizations that just want a relational database will find that IBMs, Microsoft Corp.s or Sybase Inc.s databases are less expensive and offer more functionality when the standard editions of all three databases are compared. At the high end, IBMs DB2 offers comparable programmability, extensibility and SQL engine features to what Oracle9i provides.

Oracle9i Database continues to be not just an object relational database but also includes file and document management, e-mail, Web server, message queuing, and Java 2 Enterprise Edition application server features.

This release also gains important performance and fault-tolerance improvements for customers using Oracle database clusters and management changes that ease administration and provide greater data safety.

Oracles database clustering is unique on the market in that it supports complex packaged applications such as SAP AGs enterprise resource planning suite (just a few SAP applications run on IBMs DB2 clusters, the only other sophisticated database clustering option on the market).

Oracle9i Database also includes strong data analysis capabilities through the addition of relational and multi- dimensional OLAP (online analytical processing), as well as data mining. IBM and Microsoft have already included OLAP capabilities in DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server databases, respectively.

Unfortunately, both the new relational OLAP and data mining features use a new Java-based API, so they will only be useful in new applications designed for Oracle9i. Oracle needs to bite the bullet and support Microsofts OLAP APIs because theyre the ones that data analysis software vendors have moved en masse to support.

All for One and One for All

Overall, the Oracle9i package provides a very rich feature set (more than any other database vendor provides in one product); has a fairly consistent management strategy; and is oriented toward thin-client HTML application deployment through its XML (Extensible Markup Language), XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language) and Java-oriented design.

The downside to the Oracle strategy is leaving behind a best-of-breed approach for the consistency and centralized management of an integrated suite, a trade-off Oracle CEO Larry Ellison freely acknowledges in his speeches.

In tests, we found quality and maturity varied substantially from poor (the e-mail server) to fair (the message queuing features, Java application server features and Internet File System component—we looked at IFS in detail in our Jan. 1 Oracle8i Release 3 review) to good (its administration tools and XML query features, which are very simple to use and allow automatic transformations using XSL style sheets) to excellent (the database itself).

In particular, Oracle9is database features that stand out as first-rate are its fine-grain access control features, flexible resource governor for mixed transactional and reporting workloads, auditing and data recovery features, object-oriented design features, and overall programmability.

For example, using Oracles access control features, we could set security access policies down to row and column granularity without having to add custom views for this purpose, as is necessary with DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server. Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise added this feature with its 12.5 release, which shipped in June.

Oracle9i comes in a Standard Edition, which costs $15,000 per CPU or $300 per named user, and an Enterprise Edition, which costs $40,000 per CPU or $800 per named user. We tested the Enterprise Edition.

The Enterprise Edition also has a number of options (at extra cost) for database clustering, data partitioning, OLAP, data mining, geospatial (mapping) data support, additional security support, and extra management and performance tuning tools.

Oracle9i first shipped in mid-June for Solaris, then in the following eight weeks shipped on Compaq Computer Corp.s Compaq Tru64 Unix, Hewlett-Packard Co.s HP-UX, IBMs AIX and OS/390, and Linux. We tested the Linux edition. (The OLAP features arent available on the Linux version now, although they will be coming in a later update.) Windows support is due next month.

Oracle9is pricing has dropped from Oracle8is per-CPU-megahertz model but remains the most expensive choice among its competitors. This is particularly true at the lower end because Oracle Standard Edition is a gutted version of its big brother, lacking major features available to Enterprise Edition users. Competitors do provide these features at similar price points. Notably absent are most multi-CPU features, including parallel query, materialized views and fine-grained security, as well as the option to add OLAP, data mining and additional management tools.

As a result, although Enterprise Edition is an excellent database, Standard Edition falls to the bottom of the pack when set beside its competitors.

Keeping Data Safe

Oracle9i adds a number of new or enhanced features to increase data safety and overall database uptime. One particularly striking feature is Oracles Log Miner, which let us go back through already committed SQL statements to undo past work, something normally not possible without doing a database restore. Oracle9i includes a new graphical tool that makes viewing the log much easier than in Oracle8i.

Third parties such as Lumigent Technologies Inc.s Log Explorer provide this capability for Microsoft SQL Server, but wed like to see it provided directly by the other big database vendors.

Oracles administration tools, fronted by its Enterprise Manager administration console (see screen, Page 47), have slowly but steadily improved over the years weve been using them and are now quite stable and usable.