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Oracle 11g's new features not groundbreaking, VARs say

One of the most talked about of Oracle 11g's new features is database replay, which VARs say will help make upgrades easier by smoothing the transition from a test deployment to production. But most of the improvements are performance tweaks that VARs say are not so important as to bump the upgrade to the top of the priority list.

Oracle 11g's new features include several improvements that will help users get the most out of their systems, but nothing so earth-shattering as to make an immediate upgrade crucial, several Oracle resellers say. Although it has been four years since the launch of the last major database version, Oracle 10g, one Oracle consultant said 11g is still fleshing out the product goals that Oracle set in its 9i release, back in 2001.

The latest version of the company's database, which was released for Linux earlier this month, includes performance improvements, such as a new partition advising system that will improve performance on extremely large databases, and new tools to simplify performance tweaks.

But while the new version should run faster for most customers than 10g, Oracle 11g's new features aren't significant enough to get customers to change their development or migration plans, said Ryan Emily, director of remote database services at Atlanta-based Idha Software Consultancy.

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That wasn't the case with the upgrade from version 8i to 9i, when Oracle revamped its clustering technology, now called Real Application Clusters (RAC), Emily said. RAC fundamentally changed how Oracle handled clustered computers by transferring data among them without relying on disk access, making clusters a much more viable option, he said. But 11g has no such breakthroughs, he added.

"From what I've seen, I don't know that there's anything really glaring [in 11g] that would tell a customer, 'You really need to upgrade right away,'" Emily said.

One of Oracle 11g's new features that several system integrators (SIs) said will be very useful is Real Application Testing, which will help move systems from the test phase to production more reliably. Real Application Testing, informally known as database replay, allows administrators to log transactions on a production database and then replay them on a test database.

That will make upgrading to 11g easier, Emily said. In the past, database administrators (DBAs) could ensure that an updated database's data was intact, but not necessarily that the database itself would work with the applications that access it.

"It's going beyond the actual upgrade process itself," he said. "This should allow you to really be much more thorough in terms of testing things out through all your transactions."

For companies that currently use databases from several vendors and would like to consolidate them, Oracle 11g also has performance improvements that could make it a good platform on which to standardize, according to Ali Shadman, vice president and general manager of open source solutions in Unisys' systems and technology group.

For instance, companies with transaction-heavy databases might be interested in Oracle 11g's new features for auto-tuning, while companies with a large amount of data may be tempted by improvements in the database's ability to compress data and thereby save on storage, he said. Database 11g also has new group control features that will let companies consolidate the schemas of several databases or applications without eroding the security built into each, he said.

The performance improvements include features that could improve capacity planning and resource allocation, in addition to pure number-crunching performance. The partition advisor, for example, can automatically suggest ways to partition large tables to increase performance. It also comes with a tool that allows DBAs to specify how much memory the database as a whole should take and then automatically allocates memory among the database's components, said Rich Niemiec, CEO of TUSC, an Oracle consulting firm in Chicago.

Oracle 11g's new features should help SIs improve performance tuning for databases that are more and more frequently approaching multi-terabyte sizes, Niemiec said. Easing the task of optimizing the database will let SIs focus on more interesting projects, Shadman added.

"The less time we spend tinkering with the widgets and the core technology, and the more time we spend understanding customers' problems and coming up with solutions for them ... that's where we make our money," he said.

Not that there isn't room for nuts-and-bolts fine tuning along with the more high-level of Oracle 11g's new features. Niemiec said TUSC has been in the beta program for Database 11g for about a year, and in that time he has found several small tweaks that deliver big improvements.

For instance, 11g has a new data type, SIMPLE_INTEGER, which Niemiec said is computed on the hardware level, making it more efficient. A test block in which a number was incremented by one on each iteration, repeated 1 billion times, took 1.26 seconds with the NUMBER data type and 0.65 seconds with SIMPLE_INTEGER, Niemiec said.

Because the product is new, Oracle is still getting its own sales teams caught up, said Ken Muse, Oracle's vice president of channel operations in North America for the company's technology stack.

"We're just really kicking this off from a training perspective for our partner base," he said. He added that he wouldn't say that adoption is very high among the channel yet.

Although software has a reputation for being spotty after any major upgrade, Niemiec said he was pleasantly surprised by 11g's quality throughout the beta program.

"It just seems like [Oracle is] trying to accelerate the adoption cycle," he said. "[Database 11g is] definitely going to drive some revenue this year, and you'll see a lot of adoption in '08."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Yuval Shavit, News Writer.

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