DB2, 9i war looms large

Self-tuning, businuss intelligence, and scalability are just some of the weapons that IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. have in their arsenals as they take the field for upcoming battles over their divergent data-management philosophies: IBM's approach is federated whereas Oracle's is centralized.

Not surprisingly, the forthcoming editions will both ship within one week of each other. IBM's DB2 Universal Database (UDB) 7.2 will reach the market on June 8 and Oracle's 9i will become generally available on June 14, officials said. Microsoft officials said that it has not set a date for the release of its next generation of SQL Server.

In addition to features the vendors have touted all along, IBM and Oracle will strike some common chords such as self-tuning features, scalability, integration with middleware, and ease of use when they ship the databases. They will also be stressing their inclusion of BI (business intelligence) tools in the core engine.

Oracle's most recent push is toward self-tuning features that reduce the ongoing costs of operating a database, so 9i will include memory-, storage-, and resource-management features.

"We can have the database do some tasks better than DBAs," said Bob Shimp, senior director of marketing at Oracle, in Redwood Shores, Calif.

IBM already has a number of self-tuning features, such as an optimizer and a query-rewrite capability, according to Jeff Jones, senior program manager at Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM's data management group.

Furthermore, Big Blue is working on what it calls the SMART (Self Managing and Resource Tuning) database, which is designed to reduce the human intervention needed to run and maintain a database. The long-term goal for SMART is to provide DBAs the option not to get involved with the database. Jones wouldn't say, however, whether or not that technology will emerge in the next consecutive version of DB2 but said that it will appear in a future release.

Microsoft, for its part, also has auto-tuning features in SQL Server 2000 that can automatically adapt to changing workloads, said Jeff Ressler, SQL Server product manager at the Redmond, Wash.-based company.

Peter Urban, a senior analyst at AMR Research in Boston, said that users will benefit from the addition of self-tuning capabilities. Although Sybase, NCR, and Microsoft are all working on databases that require less human interaction than current editions, the self-tuning database is not yet a reality.

But increased scalability brings database software closer to that goal, and both Oracle and IBM are improving scalability in an effort to compete with NCR's Teradata.

"We use both the scale-up and the scale-out approaches," Oracle's Shimp said. He continued to say that he expects users to be able to scale beyond 3TB or 4TB.

Oracle historically has not scaled as high as DB2 or NCR Teradata, but the ability to add more systems to a server farm via the Real Application Clusters feature in 9i promises to enhance Oracle's scalability, AMR's Urban said.

IBM's Jones said that Big Blue has improved scalability with faster recovery and plans to stick to its guns with the shared-nothing approach for Unix and Windows scalability, saying that the overhead for partitioning the database is less than the cost of migrating data into a single repository. Another means of increasing the effectiveness of DB2 is integrating it more tightly with middleware and WebSphere to weave support for Web services standards, said officials.

The final area IBM and Oracle homed in on is ease of use. SQL Server is still the easiest, although it doesn't scale as well as IBM or Oracle, said Urban, who added that customers are looking for less expensive databases. "They've added so many new features, now it's time to think about cutting the price a bit," he said.

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