As Published In
Oracle Magazine
September/October 2007

AT ORACLE: Interview


Change Assurance

By Rich Schwerin

Oracle Database 11g helps customers manage change.

Andy Mendelsohn, senior vice president of Database Server Technologies at Oracle, sat down with Oracle Magazine to talk about new technologies and innovations in Oracle Database 11g. The following is an excerpt from that interview. To download a podcast of the full interview, visit oracle.com/technetwork/magcasts.

Oracle Magazine: Most organizations today are faced with a variety of regulatory compliance issues as well as security challenges. How does Oracle Database 11g address these issues?

Mendelsohn: One of our new enhancements is that we're encrypting large objects [LOBs] transparently in Oracle Database 11g. We're also doing encryption at the whole tablespace level. So if you want to just go in and encrypt everything, we make it easy to do that.

We also have Oracle Audit Vault, which targets security and compliance. Oracle Audit Vault consolidates audit trails from different source databases into a central data warehouse, which makes it easier for auditors to understand the security-relevant operations in a company.

Oracle Magazine: Tell us about the flashback data archive feature for compliance in Oracle Database 11g.

Mendelsohn: Flashback data archive lets you go back in time indefinitely. With flashback data archive, you can set up an archive on any table, and whenever any updates are made to a table, we record those updates and we keep the old versions of every row that's been updated. You can run queries as of a point in time in the past, but now the point in time can be years in the past, which can be very useful for things like auditing.

Oracle Magazine: By some estimates, the volume of corporate data is growing three times larger every two years, which dramatically increases storage costs. How does Oracle Database 11g address this issue?

Mendelsohn: Storage vendors have an initiative called information lifecycle management [ILM]. When you have information that's really active, you need the highest-performance storage out there. But, as the data becomes more historical in nature, the high-performance storage isn't needed. All the storage vendors now have different levels of storage, at different price points. Oracle has a technology called partitioning that has been used mostly for managing very large databases, often in a time-based fashion. It turns out that partitioning works perfectly for implementing an ILM strategy. You can basically have a set of tablespaces that are defined on different classes of storage, and then as the data ages out, you create a set of time-based partitions for your table. So, let's say it's the order table. As the orders start aging out, you just implement partitioning by time stamp on the order, and when the orders get more than a few months old, you start moving them onto partitions with lower-cost storage, and over time even lower-cost storage, until ultimately you either drop them or archive them completely.

Oracle Magazine: People are storing all kinds of things in databases today that they didn't used to—documents, images, multimedia. How does Oracle Database 11g address this issue?

Mendelsohn: In Oracle Database 11g, Oracle SecureFiles is a whole new implementation of our LOB infrastructure, and we rearchitected it for really high performance. The performance of the Oracle Database 11g LOB implementation for just reading and writing LOBs in the database is up to five times faster. Oracle SecureFiles actually reads and writes documents and files in the database faster than outside the database, which is a real eye-opener for customers. And the Oracle SecureFiles infrastructure underlies all of our support for rich datatypes like spatial, multimedia, and XML. We are very sensitive to the amount of storage these documents consume, and so we have full compression for Oracle SecureFiles, and we also support deduplication.

Oracle Magazine: Could you tell us more about the new compression technology in Oracle Database 11g?

Mendelsohn: In Oracle Database 11g, we've improved our algorithms for compression so they are enabled on every update to even a single row of a table. Now you can do compression for any kind of application workload, not just the data warehouse. This will make compression very interesting for people who want to implement ILM, because as the data ages out, you want to compress that data to lower your storage costs even further.

Oracle Magazine: How will Oracle help customers migrate to Oracle Database 11g and manage this change process?

Mendelsohn: When we talk to customers, one of their big pain points is migration, whether they're migrating to a new version of the database, a new version of an operating system, or even a new version of their own database-based internal applications. In Oracle Database 11g, we looked at the whole lifecycle of what customers do when they do a migration, an upgrade, or a change of any sort, and we have a number of technologies to lower the cost and the risk of change.

First, we've enhanced our Oracle Data Guard technology to make it really easy to automate the creation of a test environment. As you run tests, the data in the test environment is no longer in sync with the production environment, but you can use Oracle Data Guard to resync the test environment with the latest version of the production environment in a very clever fashion.

The next things we've added are two major Oracle Real Application Testing features. The first one lets you point at a production system and say, "I want to take a real production workload off of that production system and move it into my test environment and then run it as a regression test." Today, doing something like this is basically a development project. With Oracle Real Application Testing, you can just point to a real system, capture the workload, bring it over to a test environment, and replay it, purely within the database tier.

The other [Oracle Real Application Testing] thing we're doing is that you can go to a production environment and just pull off the SQL statements. If you want to make sure that the performance of individual SQL statements hasn't regressed, you can go to your production environment, pull off the SQL statements, bring them over to a test environment, and then run them against both the old and the new version of the query optimizer. So between both of these features, you can now have a lot more confidence that when you go live you're going to get the quality, robustness, and performance you need out of the new release.

Another new feature is SQL Plan Change Control. One of the key things people really would like to do when they move to a production environment is keep the SQL plans unchanged. So in Oracle Database 11g, SQL Plan Change Control lets you move to a new production environment. You can freeze the query execution plans there and then periodically look at what the optimizer is recommending as better plans and move to these new plans in a controlled fashion.

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Finally, with Oracle Database 11g, we're rolling out a new capability called hot patching, where you can actually apply a bug fix to a production system online without any downtime.

Oracle Magazine: How would you summarize the benefits that all these new technologies deliver?

Mendelsohn: Well, the key goal for all customers is better quality of service, higher performance, better scalability, reliability, and security—at lower costs.

As far as lowering costs, a big focus for us has been ease of management. In Oracle Database 11g, we continue strongly pushing in that direction. The big new area in Oracle Database 11g is our change assurance capabilities, where we really have spent a lot of time to lower the risk of change. This is really the lifeblood of every enterprise: everybody knows they need to change to be more competitive, to grow their business, but there's this opposite force that says, "Any change I make is going to destabilize my IT environment." It's a real problem for customers, and we think we've done a great job in tackling that problem.

Oracle Magazine: What is the single most exciting new technology in Oracle Database 11g, from your perspective?

Mendelsohn: What's always most exciting is when we move into a new area. The Oracle Real Application Testing feature is that one for me in Oracle Database 11g. It's a whole new area. Customers have no good solutions out there today for dealing with creating test suites or doing online hot patching of their systems. It's an area that's dying for help from Oracle, and we have unique technologies that are going to be exciting for our customers to really lower their risk of change and help them really innovate much more freely. 


Rich Schwerin is a product marketing manager with Oracle technology marketing and a regular contributor to Oracle Magazine.


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