Beyond the Database

Oracle8i Release 3 aims for mail, file server market.

Boldly going where no database has gone before, Oracle Corp.s Oracle8i Release 3 is a lot more than a database. Oracle8i is now also a file, mail, Web and Java2 Enterprise Edition application server.

Oracles development teams are backing up Larry Ellisons mantra of fewer, bigger servers, and its up to customers now to decide if they want to put all their faith in the Oracle gospel or keep a more widely distributed, heterogeneous architecture for their most critical IT services.

The big news in this release is the new file- and Web-serving additions. Although Oracles database engine itself has changed little from previous releases, its still true that only IBMs DB2 can compete with Oracle8is breadth of database functionality.

Oracle8is biggest weakness in this area is its lack of an included OLAP (online analytical processing) server for ad hoc analysis queries, something both IBM and Microsoft Corp. now provide with their databases (Microsoft also now includes data mining).

Oracle8i started shipping in late fall and was available for Solaris, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Linux operating systems in November. Support for other platforms will follow in the next few months.

In eWeek Labs tests, Oracle8is IFS (Internet File System) was the clear standout in terms of strategically valuable product changes. Having set up and used the product ourselves, we think its a brilliant and original product idea and will make content and file management on large file systems much easier—in a future release.

Using the products Web interface or simply a mapped Windows drive, we were able to copy files both to and from IFS.

IFS has to do better than a normal file server to be interesting, and it does. We could save point-in-time versions of files to later revert to an older version, and create links to files that continued to work when source files were moved, renamed or deleted by another user. Its highly programmable and has great built-in XML (Extensible Markup Language) support.

IFS biggest weakness is its lack of directory integration, even with Oracle8is own user list. With no LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), Windows domain authentication or even user-list import tools, IFS is a land unto itself, a failing that, in a single stroke, makes the mail server features of IFS unusable for most organizations.

We also couldnt apply file permission changes recursively, a key maintenance feature, and IFS is very resource-intensive. With all of its components running, the product used more than 200MB of RAM.

Performance is also a big question mark for us, especially with a file system product. Oracle officials refused to support our request to quantify IFS overhead vs. a file server baseline, telling us the product was too new (as a 1.x release) to handle comparative performance testing. Caveat emptor.

Its in Oracles favor that the database now offers so much because Oracle8i is significantly more expensive than any other database option. Oracle8i Release 3 Enterprise Edition, the version we tested, costs $150 per CPU megahertz on RISC chips such as Suns SPARC chips, and $100 per CPU megahertz on Intel Corp.-compatible chips.

Oracle sells a lower-end Oracle8i Standard Edition that costs a more competitive $15 per CPU megahertz on Intel platforms, includes IFS, but lacks many SQL features that competitors have.