Oracle Corp. announced new software Wednesday designed to make it easier for companies to maintain a backup copy of their database, with the goal of preserving data in the event of a system failure, human error or natural disaster.
Called Data Guard, the application was originally scheduled for release with Oracle 9i, the next major upgrade to Oracle's database, scheduled for release by June 30. The company decided to offer a version for users of its current database, Oracle 8i, because it's "one of those fundamental technologies" that all businesses can benefit from, said George Demarest, director of product marketing for Oracle 9i.
Data Guard is used to help maintain a replica of a company's primary database, with the goal of keeping important data available and intact in the event of a disaster. Coming soon after a large earthquake shook Seattle and in the midst of a chronic power shortage which has led to blackouts in parts of California, the release of the software is timely.
However, the version of Data Guard being offered to 8i users isn't as complete as the one that will ship with Oracle 9i, Demarest acknowledged. The software released today can maintain a "physical standby" database, which contains the same data as a company's primary database but can be used only for read-only operations. Only the version of Data Guard that will ship with Oracle 9i supports the maintenance of a "logical standby" database, or one that supports both read and write access.
One analyst said that's a significant drawback.
"It's the logical capability that really represents the enhancement, that's what makes it really useful and lets you get double-duty from the (standby) database," said Jon Rubin, a senior research analyst with Gartner Group Inc.
Data Guard for Oracle 8i is still a valuable tool, primarily because it automates many of the time-consuming steps that database administrators must take to switch over to the standby database, Demarest said. Oracle's existing tool for maintaining a standby database requires administrators to perform as many as 20 manual steps in order to switch to the backup database, he said.
"Data Guard provides a sort of push-button interface for managing that remote copy, and easily enables you to switch back and forth," he said. Data Guard also includes a feature called Zero Data Loss Log Transport, which helps ensure that the standby database is kept fully up to date in the event that a failure occurs.
Despite Oracle's assertion that it is acting in the interests of its users, Rubin had his own theory about why Oracle chose to offer Data Guard in advance of 9i's release. One of Oracle's software partners, Quest Software Inc. of Irvine, California, has enjoyed increasingly strong sales lately for SharePlex, a database backup product that performs a very similar function to Data Guard.
"It's a situation where an ISV has a similar product that's driving significant revenue, and I think Oracle sees an opportunity there," Rubin said.
Demarest claimed that Oracle isn't trying to compete with Quest, and noted that Data Guard is being offered at no charge to Oracle 8i users, aside from the license fee for the backup database. "I don't think our main motivation was a competitive one; it had more to do with how users are using the Oracle database," he said.
Mike Schiff, vice president of e-business and business intelligence at research firm Current Analysis Inc. said Data Guard is a valuable addition to any business using critical applications that must be kept running constantly. "It's an absolute necessity these days," he said.
Data Guard can be downloaded today from Oracle Technology Network at http://otn.oracle.com/. The product is available only for Oracle 8i, not earlier versions of the database, Demarest said.
DataGuard isn't the only feature scheduled for Oracle 9i that's being released ahead of time. Just last week Oracle released Label Security, a feature primarily for ASPs (application service providers) that helps them host data from two or more companies in a single database, and to keep that data separate and secure. The software was planned as an option for 9i users but is being offered to current customers as well.
Demarest wouldn't rule out the possibility that further 9i features will be released ahead of time. Some 1,700 engineers have been working on the new product, he said, and inevitably some parts of the project are completed before others.
Oracle's target date for releasing 9i is June 30, 2001, Bob Shimp [cq], senior director for Oracle 9i marketing, said in an interview last week. That would be the tail end of Oracle's previously stated launch window of the first half of 2001. Indeed, Larry Ellison, Oracle's chairman and chief executive officer, said at the OpenWorld show in October that Oracle 9i would ship in March.
Oracle is pitching the new database to ASPs, where it hopes to become a significant player in the emerging hosted applications market, as well as to "e-businesses" that are using the Internet as a critical part of their operations, and who need a reliable and scalable database.
"They've taken some positive steps forward and the vision is a good one," Rubin said. "The question is how they deliver."
Oracle, in Redwood Shores, California, can be reached at +1-650-506-7000 or at http://www.oracle.com/.