Beta testers ready to upgrade to Oracle 11g

New version adds security, testing features; still lacks grid support

China Martens

July 11, 2007 (IDG News Service) -- Several Oracle Corp. database users this week said they expect their companies to quickly upgrade to the new 11g version, which includes new security, testing and management features.

Oracle 11g, unveiled  Wednesday at an event in New York, is the successor product to Releases 1 and 2 of the 10g database that first shipped in February 2004.  Beta testing for 11g began in September, but the company had been close-mouthed on a launch date until about a month ago.

"Oracle was a little bit more cautious, wanting to make sure they got the product right," said Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG)  and a senior consultant at Datalink Corp., a database consulting firm in Chanhassen, Minn. User group members were heavily involved in the 11g beta testing program, Kaplan said.

Kaplan said improved integration of 11g with Oracle's Audit Vault and Database Vault software is an important upgrade in the new database. The update will help prevent database administrators from making unwanted changes to data, he noted.

"There's a key flaw with all databases," he said. "If they're smart, a DBA can modify data and cover their tracks." The technologies in Oracle's vaulting software make that impossible, since every action a DBA executes effectively "goes into a lockbox that they are powerless to modify," Kaplan added.

Wachovia Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., hopes to certify 11g for use within the organization by the end of the year and to have its migration efforts well under way in 2008, according to Ed Mulheren, senior database administrator.

Mulheren said he expects that that the improved security features in 11g will help Wachovia meet ever-increasing regulatory demands on financial services companies. Mulheren said that updates like 11g's support of case-sensitive passwords bring the database's security capabilities more in line with Wachovia's Windows desktop security policies. The feature also means that users have to remember fewer passwords, he added.

Arup Nanda, senior director of database engineering and architecture at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. in White Plains, N.Y., said he expects that his organization will migrate to Oracle 11g in 2008. The hotel chain didn't participate in the beta program because the software doesn't yet run on the HP-UX operating system, which Starwood uses.

"We will have to settle for the production release later this year and then at least six months of testing after that," he wrote in an e-mail. Starwood uses Oracle's database for almost all of its business processes, including reservations, check-in and check-out, and guest loyalty programs, he said.

Nanda listed the Database Replay and SQL Performance Analyzer features as key new features in 11g. On the other hand, he added that the new offering continues to lack key capabilities such as the ability to make a tablespace read only when there are active transactions in the database on different tablespaces.

Mike Amble, senior vice president of operations and engineering at Fidelity National Information Services Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., expects that 11g's new Fast Files feature will be particularly useful to his organization, a provider of software and services to the financial services and mortgage industries.

"We tend to deal with a lot of odd forms of information," he said. For instance, when a house is sold, all the documents related to the sale including appraisals and title documents are sent back to the mortgage company in paper form and then scanned and stored. Fast Files will allow users to store large objects like images in the 11g database as fast as storing such unstructured information in traditional file systems, Amble said.

Amble added that the new Real Application Testing feature, which promises to help users effectively record a segment of their database operations and then use and replay that recording as a testing environment instead of having to spend months creating a testbed, should also be helpful to many users.

Amble noted that incorporating Oracle's Data Guard disaster recovery tool  set into 11g will allow users to offload workloads from their production database to a standby system set up using the software. Fidelity already uses the disaster recovery software, he noted.

Amble said he hopes that Fidelity can migrate to 11g in 2008. "In the beta testing, we've not found a lot of issues, it should be a very easy transition," he said. Amble added that he hopes Oracle will add the ability to manage of multiple encryption tools, from both Oracle and third-party vendors, in future versions of the database.

Andy Mendelsohn, senior vice president of database server technologies at Oracle, estimated that more than 1,500 Oracle developers and technicians have worked on 11g. The company engaged in a "huge amount of testing," he said, running the beta software on Oracle's server farm of more than 2,000 processors.

The company already has a parallel development project under way to work on 11g Release 2. Mendelsohn did concede that 11g lacks extensive support for grid computing, even though the "g" in both 10g and 11g refer to grid technology. "We're doing a lot of work in grid technologies for the next release, which will make grid infrastructure even easier to adopt," Mendelsohn said.

Mendelsohn also confirmed earlier reports that Oracle doesn't plan to immediately ship 11g implementation for its free Express Edition (XE) database. The new version will likely come with the release of 11g Release 2, he said.

According to Gartner Inc.'s latest figures, released in June, Oracle was the worldwide market leader in the relational database management system market with a 47.1% share, trailed by IBM, in second place with 21.1% of the market, and Microsoft Corp., with 17.4%. In April, Framingham, Mass.-based IDC's initial 2006 figures painted much the same picture.

"We don't really worry about the competition," said Charles Phillips, Oracle's president. "We have such a lead." Oracle's challenge is how fast it can meet its customers' needs, he added. He dismissed IBM, saying it derives 90% of its database revenue from mainframe, and described Microsoft as being "regulated to Windows." Oracle offers its database on a number of operating systems, including Linux.

Kaplan said a good chunk of IOUG members plan to upgrade to 11g relatively quickly. In recent poll of members, 35% said they plan to upgrade to 11g within a year of its release, and an another 53% said they plan to adopt the new database in the next few years, according to Kaplan.

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