When Oracle ships the upcoming upgrade to its database, designated Oracle9i Release 2, in May, it will mark the end of the Oracle Express OLAP (online analytical processing) product line and the dawn of an offering more tightly integrated with the main database.
The replacement to Express, Oracle OLAP, is an optional, add-on component to Release 2. Oracle officials discussed improvements for OLAP, redundancy, and database monitoring in an interview last Thursday.
Oracle OLAP enables the execution of OLAP functions directly inside the database, rather than having an auxiliary engine for this purpose, said Robert Shimp, Oracle vice president of marketing, in Redwood Shores, California.
"By having it all inside the database, the performance is dramatically better, many times faster than what you can get with [IBM] DB2 or [Microsoft] SQL Server," Shimp said. Reliability and scalability are improved as well, he added.
OLAP provides statistical analysis of data, answering questions such as average sales in a year.
The introduction of Oracle OLAP means that "Express goes away," Shimp said.
"[OLAP] becomes part of the Oracle9i database," he said. The Oracle OLAP option costs US$400 per named user and $20,000 per processor.
Express, meanwhile, will be supported for as long as customers want to continue using it, said Shimp.
The president of the International Oracle Users Group (IOUG) gave a thumbs-up to Oracle's OLAP plans.
"Anytime you bring [processing] into the database, you do get better performance," provided the implementation is done correctly, said Rich Niemiec, president of the IOUG and chief executive officer at Tusc, a database integrator in Chicago.
Oracle's inclusion of OLAP within the database follows a pattern of tying multiple functions together, said analyst Victor Votsch, principal analyst at V-Square, in Narberth, Pennsylvania.
"I think what Oracle is trying to do is to sort of pull everything back into the core platform, the database, and OLAP is one piece of functionality there. We've been watching them do this for years," Votsch said.
Customers must make a decision about whether to choose Oracle's approach, which could lessen integration issues, or opt for something other than a single-source approach to data management, Votsch said.
Also new in Release 2 is an upgrade to Oracle Data Guard, which serves as a redundant, backup database run on a separate server to enable it to be used both for processing and as a backup data management system, according to Oracle.
Customers can, for example, process reports on the Data Guard database rather than have it sit idle and only be called into action when the main database malfunctions, Shimp said.
"The major problem that customers have had in the past with any kind of [disaster recovery database] is it just sits in the closet waiting for when disaster strikes. It's very expensive," Shimp said. Customers can now get value out of the system, he said.
A standard feature of Release 2, Data Guard is "a complete replica of the main database. It's identical right down to the last transaction and in fact we can guarantee zero data loss," said Shimp.
Oracle also has added a "delayed apply" feature to Data Guard to prevent viruses infecting the primary database from also inhabiting Data Guard. Transactions are held temporarily on a hard drive to enable a virus to be cleaned out prior to execution.
IOUG's Niemiec called the improved Data Guard "a huge feature."
"You're using our replicated data to run some of the reporting, which is going to give those users better reporting, not to mention you'll be able to offload it off your main server," he said. The new Data Guard would enable processing to be done on subsets of data, said Niemiec.
The delayed apply function, in addition to preventing virus infections on replicated data, also will enable administrators to fix mistakes in data before it is committed to the database, said Niemiec.
Oracle also has improved database manageability and monitoring functions in Release 2. The Database Health Overview feature has been enhanced to provide diagnostics such as determinations on how fast transactions are going and how much memory space is being used. The number of database Advisors, which monitor performance, has been increased to enable provision of recommendations such as when to add more disk drives and how to best manage queries.
Release 2, as previously detailed by Oracle, also will host XML (Extensible Markup Language) support enabling users to make both relational and SQL queries from within a single command.