Oracle Overview
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Book Review: Oracle's Overview reflects the turbulent times in the database arena
Feature: The huge DB apps are hard to tune around quickly but are enterprise pivotal

Oracle has been one of the most resilient of database providers. Larry Ellison has not won the America's Cup, the top prize of yacht racing, nor has he displaced IBM or Microsoft from the database field. But that record is certainly not for lack of trying. Oracle had the audacity to beat IBM, the inventors of the relational databases, to market with a viable RDBMS SQL engine in the early versions of Oracle of the late 1970's. Since then Oracle has managed either to pioneer or keep pace with such technologies as stored procedures, parallel databases, client/server/web development, clustering, 64-bit databases, XML-storage, grid computing enabled, single view from multiple data sources and now rigorous security plus encryption/compression standards. In short, Oracle has always been a database player.

But the recent expansion of Oracle into the fields of application servers and middleware plus ERP applications with the swallowing of major players like JDEdwards, Peoplesoft and Siebel has forced Ellison and team to concentrate their attention on the Fusion of these technologies. The database has been taking some hits in the interim.

Security is the number one problem as eWeek describes in great detail here. Also the SANS Institute notes among top database vendors the following have the most critical risks:
Oracle - 12 critical vulnerabilities
MySQL - 6 critical vulnerabilities
IBM DB2 - 2 critical vulnerabilities
PostgreSQL - 2 critical vulnerabilities
But the Institute goes onto report that all database vendors have had top make scores of security patches within the last year. This is important because hackers and criminals change their point of attack seeking the next weakest area of vulnerability and combining attack vectors that take advantage of OS, App Servers and Database weaknesses. So just over a year ago, Oracle was trumpeting its database as being one of the most secure while now its limping to make security patches on time.

The second problem that Oracle is facing is that it used to be the baddest database on the block consistently out performing all others in the TPC benchmarks that measure transaction processing speed. But now Oracle is huffing and puffing, running at only 40% of IBM's DB2 9 with its chart topping TPC benchmarks. However, to Oracle's credit it has picked up its TPH benchmarks which measure performance in the very important data warehousing and query arenas. Now Oracle leads the parade in performance for data warehouses 300GB, 1000GB, and 3000GB in size (but IBM takes the top rung for databases 10,000GB in size). These results are important as more database processing moves into the data warehousing domain - asking what if, how and why is starting to exceed classic who, what, where and when transaction processing.

The third problem facing not just Oracle but all software vendors is how to deal with Open Source. Again, to many people's consternation, Oracle is innovating in the Open Source arena buying a number of Open Source database properties such as InnoDB and Berkeley DB. Oracle really surprised the database world with its substantial upgrades to Berkeley DB including multi-version concurrency control, no-downtime upgrades and a pre-built replication framework. It has flirted with buying JBoss and other Open Source luminaries. How well Oracle uses these properties to integrate its commercial with Open Source apps will be critical.

A bellwether will be the new free Oracle Express edition. This is seen by many as just a reaction to IBM's very potent freebie - DB2 9 Viper Express C which is also free and may deployed on dual core processors with up to 4GB of memory. In contrast, It will be interesting to see how both vendors channel sales from their Express editions into the broader fold of Applications servers and ERP in the case of Oracle and SOA-based middleware in the case of IBM.

But the strength of Oracle is similar to that of Adobe, it has legions of users that are supported by a very powerful Oracle Technical Network of developers documentation and forum. OTN is also supported by a substantial series of books and readings on their database products and tools. Going to Oracle Technology Network usually produces a resource or an answer to a question in a very few clicks. The resources for Java, C/C++, and PHP development are second to none. And the OTN has BPEL, data warehouse and BI tools and reports easily accessible. In short, Oracle has delivered substantial web based resources to its most important constituency - developers, developers, developers.

The balance of this series of reports will asses how easy it is to install, load up, and develop both desktop and Web based applications using Oracle XE and broader Oracle tools. This should be fun.

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