As Published In
Oracle Magazine
January/February 2010

COMMENT: Analyst’s Corner

Driving Database Innovation

By David Baum

Clustering, lower cost, and better performance are key database benefits.

Oracle Magazine spoke with Carl Olofson, research vice president of information management and data integration software at IDC, about database management technology.

Oracle Magazine: How does database management technology today influence the choice of system hardware?

Olofson: One big issue is the question of SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] versus commodity hardware. The advantage of using SMP systems is that you have a managed environment, with an operating system and management tools built in. The obvious advantage of using commodity hardware is the price. However, with a commodity hardware cluster, you have to put the cluster together, so the challenge that Oracle has addressed is to provide the clustering technology that makes that as automatic as possible.

It used to be that people turned to SMP boxes because as they scaled up, it was the only way to go. Now they’ve got another alternative, which is clustering. And clustering provides integration among the nodes to allow the system to be flexible and perform well, and you can also do things like rolling upgrades and swapping boxes in and out and adjusting the resources as needed.

Oracle Magazine: How are DBAs dealing with the challenge of maintaining large database management systems?

Olofson: Maintaining large and complex databases will always require special expertise. However, today’s management tools are becoming more comprehensive and easier to use. For example, Oracle Enterprise Manager lets DBAs focus on database organization and use, instead of routine administrative issues such as how to rebuild indexes. The software advises them about data distribution, partitioning, and other functions. This means that they don’t have to waste time collecting statistics to make configuration decisions, to give one example. They can spend more time thinking about whether a data structure makes sense for a particular application.

Oracle Magazine: What are some of the ways that companies can reduce data storage costs?

Olofson: Data compression and database partitioning are two ways. One of Oracle’s approaches entails database partitioning. Customers can establish partitions or “tiers” in the database that let them move infrequently accessed data to less-expensive storage platforms. For example, high-throughput transactional databases can reside on Tier 1 storage to get the best performance. Transactional data that has reached the end of its lifecycle can be moved to less-expensive Tier 2 storage devices.

Oracle Magazine: How can organizations maximize I/O performance without investing in faster hardware?

Olofson: One way that database management systems do this is by caching in the form of in-memory databases, which serve as a front end to the database and reduce the number of requests that have to go back to the data server itself. And compression not only helps reduce storage costs, it also effectively makes your database buffers bigger because you can put more data in them, and therefore you do less I/O.

With respect to Oracle in particular, caching is a big part of what they’re doing with the Oracle TimesTen In-Memory Database, which enables applications to access, capture, and update information more quickly. Oracle’s latest database management system [Oracle Database 11g Release 2] optimizes the way that data is laid out on the disks as well as the way it’s retrieved—with read-ahead and write-behind logic, for example. This also improves I/O performance. 

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Oracle Magazine: What are the benefits of file storage in the database?

Olofson: Files that are stored in the database can be secured in the same way that the database data is secured. They can be compressed the same way. They can be backed up and recovered the same way, which means you get the same high-availability characteristics for files that you get for the database.

You also achieve better data integrity when performing operations that require information from both types of content. For example, consider that business intelligence may involve not only looking at sales statistics from relational tables, but also analyzing satisfaction reports, data from call centers, e-mail, and other unstructured content. Oracle Database 11g Release 2, for example, stores all of this information, so the operational mechanisms for data recovery, failover, and so forth are exactly the same. Thus you have confidence that a file-based report will always match the database numbers it references. So that’s a good argument for maintaining all of your content in one place. 

David Baum ( is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.

IDC ( provides advisory services, market intelligence, and events for the IT, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets.

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