Manage Change with Oracle Database 11gBy David Baum
New features speed innovations and transform the enterprise.
With the recent launch of Oracle Database 11g, customers are realizing a broad array of new capabilities in many areas—grid computing, data security, high availability, performance and scalability, and manageability. Especially important to many are the new features that manage change faster, thus helping to lower the risk and cost of implementing new software and other system changes.
"Change is a constant, which means IT departments are constantly upgrading servers, rolling out upgrades, applying patches, and resolving problems," says Andy Mendelsohn, Oracle senior vice president, Database Server Technologies. "Oracle Database 11g helps customers manage these changes in a controlled manner—minimizing the risk of new projects and the potential for error."
Change assurance capabilities are among Oracle Database 11g's many new features that customers have had a chance to test-drive. Since September 2006, hundreds of Oracle customers have participated in a comprehensive beta testing program for Oracle Database 11g. Their stories are as diverse as the companies they work for, yet as IDC Research Vice President Carl Olofson points out, a common chord resonates through them all: a desire to reduce the risk of managing data and to enable their organizations to do more with less.
"Today's DBAs face challenges on a scale never before seen in the industry," says Olofson. "On the one hand, they're dealing with exploding databases, both in numbers and in sizes. And at the same time, they're increasingly expected to manage new complex datatypes that we've never seen in the database before."
One of the problems of coping with all these changes is the time and effort it has taken in the past to prepare for and execute them. But new Oracle Database 11g capabilities, such as database replay, which lets customers simulate production environments, can help.
Rising Comfort Level
These capabilities appealed to Qualcomm, a telecommunications equipment manufacturer based in San Diego. Qualcomm pioneered a digital wireless technology that works by converting analog information, such as speech, into digital information, which is then transmitted as a radio signal over a wireless network. The company now has 400 mission-critical databases that depend on Oracle technology. After beta testing the new management capabilities of Oracle Database 11g, Qualcomm DBAs determined that several features, including database replay, will make it easier to tune database applications to improve performance.
"Right now our test environments might not give us the correct picture of what production will be," says Shaik Hidayatullah, staff DBA at Qualcomm. "Database replay will allow us to be more comprehensive and systematic and will also give us a more accurate test experience."
Oracle Database 11g continues the effort to simplify and ultimately fully automate common DBA tasks. Oracle has introduced more self-management utilities, along with advisors for partitioning, database repair, streams performance, and space management. Thomas Knauber, an architect for Postbank Systems AG—the IT service provider for Deutsche Postbank AG, in Bonn, Germany—says these enhancements will enable the DBA team to work smarter and not always be driven by incidents. "We don't want to be in a constant state of reacting to issues," he says. "Clearly, Oracle sees the value in this outlook."
For example, Knauber looks forward to a new feature called snapshot standby, which will allow the DBAs to temporarily convert physical standby databases to snapshot standby databases for testing and maintenance. In addition, the database replay facility will allow Postbank Systems to capture production workloads at the database level and then play them back on a test system to fully gauge the impact of changes—including critical concurrency characteristics. Knauber says this type of real-world testing will be especially valuable when they need to evaluate changes to databases that underlie the bank's critical applications.
"We have a dedicated test network, but it has always been difficult to simulate the cash dispenser workload," he says. "With these new capabilities of Oracle Database 11g, we can record everything that happens to the database during a particular period in the real world and then replay it on a test system to see how it reacts."
One of the features that appeals to the Qualcomm DBAs is automatic memory tuning, which enables automatic, unified tuning of both system global area (SGA) and program global area (PGA) memory buffers. "Before, we used to look at each instance manually," says Justin Ambrose, another staff DBA at Qualcomm. "Now, we can set one or two global parameters, and everything will be adjusted. Oracle automatically balances the memory allocated to each group of nodes, depending on the load."
Other features that Qualcomm DBAs expect will help improve database performance are database replay; automatic SQL tuning, which automatically chooses the workload and tests, implements, and retunes SQL profiles; and the SQL tuning set, which is used to store the SQL workload.
"We can adapt database replay to most of our databases when we go from test to production," says Ambrose. "Additionally, automatic SQL tuning and automatic memory tuning will reduce the amount of time we spend on tuning tasks by about 70 percent. The SQL tuning set will look at the overall picture of all our SQL statements and give us recommendations."
Online hot database patching is another feature that Qualcomm DBAs are interested in, since it will allow many database patches to be applied with no downtime in both Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC) and non-Oracle RAC environments. "Right now we need downtime to do a patch," Ambrose says. "That can be eliminated totally with Oracle Database 11g and the online patching facility."
Qualcomm's Hidayatullah likes Oracle Database 11g's adaptive threshold capabilities. Performance monitoring is established with baselines, which capture metric value statistics and are automatically computed over the system's moving window. The baseline metric statistics are used to determine alert thresholds, and companies can use Oracle Enterprise Manager to configure adaptive thresholds for alerts.
Hidayatullah adds that these settings will enable Qualcomm to vary the expected performance levels at certain times of the day and week. "We can set the parameters so that the database automatically senses the threshold," he says. "It will know what the expected load should be and then adjust the parameters accordingly."
Vishu Krishnamurthy, Oracle's senior director of XML Database, search, and information management, believes that these automated management capabilities are becoming increasingly important, particularly as customers use Oracle Database to store both structured and unstructured data ranging from office documents and spreadsheets to medical images and geographical data. "It makes good economic sense to store, manipulate, and protect all types of information in a common repository," he says. "Oracle Database 11g can manage all information in the enterprise, with robust security and information lifecycle management (ILM) capabilities."
Motorola was most enthusiastic about Oracle Database 11g's enhanced XML capabilities and more-robust support for unstructured data. The global wireless and broadband communications provider implemented Oracle Database 10g to create a large-scale storage system for its Printrak Biometrics Identification Solution.
According to Aris Prassinos, a database architect for the biometrics division of Motorola, the company selected Oracle for its ability to store large, complex biometric images such as fingerprints, palm prints, facial and iris images, and signatures in a secure, highly flexible way. Motorola uses Oracle large objects (LOBs) to store these images within the database, along with Oracle XML Database (Oracle XML DB) to store diverse textual data.
Prassinos believes that Oracle Database 11g will improve performance significantly. "Ninety percent of our data is either images or XML data stored in LOB format," he says. "Since the LOBs have been rearchitected for Oracle Database 11g with Oracle SecureFiles, we have seen huge performance improvements. For smaller images such as fingerprints, reading and writing from the LOBs is three times faster. For larger images such as palm prints, we've clocked it at seven times faster using Oracle Database 11g beta software."
Oracle SecureFiles is Oracle's next-generation offering for storing LOBs such as images—as well as large text objects and advanced datatypes such as XML, medical images, and geospatial raster objects—inside the database, with performance comparable to file systems. This speed and flexibility are essential for Motorola's demanding justice and public-safety customers, as well as for disaster recovery efforts. Prassinos says general manageability enhancements such as Oracle RAC-aware automatic database diagnostic monitor (ADDM) will improve reliability and uptime for these customers. "We're heavy users of ADDM. With Oracle Database 11g we can apply its performance diagnostic and tuning capabilities across all the nodes of our Oracle RAC clusters," he says.
Another advancement for Motorola in Oracle Database 11g is the way Oracle treats XML data as part of Motorola's XML Index product. "Everything that Oracle supports for SQL we can now do in XML and vice versa," Prassinos says. "Binary XML storage and enhanced XML indexing will give us more options for storing and retrieving important data."
Enhancing the Grid Paradigm
One of Oracle's primary objectives with Oracle Database 11g is to extend the benefits of grid computing, as customers transform data centers from silos of isolated resources to versatile, shared pools of servers and storage capacity. Oracle Database 11g helps these organizations take full advantage of infrastructure grids by managing changes to the database and the surrounding IT infrastructure, such as when they move their data from one hardware platform to another.
"We enhanced all the key areas in grid computing," says Oracle's Mendelsohn. "We improved automatic storage management to make software mirroring faster. We enhanced Oracle RAC's cache fusion protocol. One of the cool things we did was an enhancement with ADDM. In Oracle Database 11g, ADDM can look for interconnect issues or global I/O problems when it performs diagnostics and tuning. That's a very exciting improvement for our administrators."
Fidelity National Information Services welcomes these enhancements. This leading provider of core financial institution processing, card issuer, and transaction processing services specializes in mortgage loan processing and related information products. Nearly 50 percent of all U.S. residential mortgages are processed using Fidelity software. In 2006, Fidelity converted an IBM DB2 database to Oracle Database 10g and Oracle RAC. Managers valued Oracle's ability to eliminate single points of failure and improve capacity planning. Today, Fidelity uses the Oracle software to store 50 million mortgage title documents and associated metadata with a combination of XML data and PDF files. "We are heavily vested in Oracle as a product and future direction," says Fidelity's Mike Amble, senior vice president of operations and engineering. "Our database is a very large component of our overall operation."
Amble and his team have been evaluating Oracle Database 11g, which they plan to deploy later this year. They are particularly enthusiastic about the software's high-availability capabilities and flashback data archive, which provide an easy, practical way to add a time dimension for change tracking, auditing, and compliance. Fidelity has standardized on an Oracle RAC environment, along with Oracle Automatic Storage Management, Oracle Data Guard, recovery manager, and flashback technologies. These systems have been implemented according to Oracle Maximum Availability Architecture, with help from Oracle Consulting.
"For an operation of our size, any type of outage translates into millions of dollars of loss in a very short period of time," says Amble. "We need an environment that permits instantaneous backup, anchored by highly available systems in separate locations. Oracle RAC enables us to distribute data more effectively to improve response time, and Oracle Database 11g has many useful tools that can improve the structure, layout, and query plan associated with our databases."
With millions of mortgage, title, and escrow documents stored as LOBs in its database, Fidelity also favors Oracle Database 11g because its Oracle SecureFiles feature can manage structured and unstructured information in a cohesive way—securely and with encryption capabilities. "We have extremely demanding security issues," Amble continues. "We need to maintain information about bank accounts, mortgages, credit cards, and personal data like social security numbers in different formats. Oracle's new internal encryption mechanism in 11g will enable Fidelity to encrypt sensitive data, including LOBs, transparently."
And So Much More . . .
The customers profiled here are discovering useful enhancements to Oracle's flagship database environment, yet Mendelsohn points out that there are many more enhancements. "We've enhanced our data warehousing and business intelligence [BI] capabilities on several fronts to improve manageability and make advanced technologies such as online analytical processing [OLAP] and data mining more accessible to mainstream users," he says. Oracle OLAP capabilities are now fully integrated with the Oracle Materialized Views feature, and OLAP cubes can be automatically refreshed from relational data and transparently accessed using SQL.
"In addition, automatic data preparation at the SQL/Java API level, an improved management console, and more predictive analytics have made data mining in Oracle Database 11g both easier to use and more powerful," Mendelsohn says. When it comes to managing this advanced BI infrastructure, Oracle Enterprise Manager is fully "DW [data warehouse] aware," as Mendelsohn puts it, and includes data warehouse-specific screens, parallelism, and partitioning.
Vipin Samar, Oracle's vice president of database security development, points to the comprehensive security and compliance features and products associated with Oracle Database 11g, such as the recently introduced Oracle Audit Vault, enhancements to transparent data encryption, and improved security tools. "While Oracle Database Vault protects the data inside the database from highly privileged users through custom controls and flexible policies, Oracle Audit Vault helps monitor the enterprise by consolidating audit data from multiple enterprise databases—Oracle9i Database Release 2 and higher—into a centralized secure data warehouse, enabling auditors to efficiently report, analyze, and raise alerts on suspicious user activity," he says.
Data encryption continues to be a top priority for customers coping with personally identifiable information and privacy regulations such as Peripheral Component Interconnect, Samar says. "Oracle Database 11g provides significant new enhancements to transparent data encryption with Oracle SecureFiles (LOB encryption) and tablespace encryption, making it easier to encrypt an entire application's data or sensitive objects," he says. Oracle Database 11g also includes new management interfaces in Oracle Enterprise Manager for encryption, Oracle Label Security, and enterprise user security. Other security enhancements include case-sensitive passwords, default profile password settings, and default audit settings.
Mendelsohn says that the release of Oracle Database 11g this year is apropos, because Oracle is celebrating its 30th anniversary as one of the world's leading technology providers. "It's a time for celebration," he says, "and it's great to have such enthusiastic customers on board for the occasion."
David Baum (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.