Oracle 11g R2 makes its debut

Improvements to the database focus on clustering, storage management and compression

Oracle on Tuesday is launching version 11g Release 2 of its database, about two years after the initial version hit the market.

The new release is the product of some 1,500 developers and 15 million hours of testing, according to Mark Townsend, vice president of database product management.

One major piece is Oracle's optional Real Application Clusters (RAC) technology, which allows database workloads to be deployed across a pool of commodity hardware. This increases reliability because other servers pick up the slack in the event one fails, and the system can be scaled by adding more servers.

Customers can use 11g R2 to more easily devote specific groups of server nodes to various application workloads, such as a "front office" resource pool which supports CRM (customer relationship management) implementations and Web sites, according to an Oracle whitepaper. When a particular pool needs additional horsepower, it can draw from unassigned nodes, or nodes can be drawn from pools with lower demands.

The new release also features a new option, Oracle RAC One Node, which is aimed at less mission-critical applications, according to the paper.

The database's Automated Storage Management feature also gets an upgrade in 11g R2. "Intelligent data placement" capabilities put rarely used data on disks' inner rings, while information needed more often is stored on the outer rings, boosting performance, according to Oracle.

Other improvements include advanced data partitioning capabilities for easier management of large data sets. Users can now perform online application upgrades.

Many new aspects of 11g R2 are included with an Enterprise Edition database license, which lists for US$47,500 per processor license. RAC One Node, like RAC itself, is optional, and pricing has not yet been finalized, Townsend said.

Overall, Oracle expects the new features to prompt widespread adoption of 11g, Townsend said. Many Oracle shops are still on older versions, such as 10g.

Tracking adoption is a "black art," Townsend said, but Oracle estimates between 10 percent and 20 percent of its database customers are using 11g Release 1.

Initially 11g R2 will support Linux, Townsend said. Support for "all major UNIX platforms," which would include the Solaris operating system Oracle will acquire through its pending purchase of Sun Microsystems, will likely arrive this year, followed by Windows, he said. No timetable was available for Windows support.

Users and industry observers expect the update to be warmly received.

"With every major release of Oracle, the second is the most important one," said Paul Vallée, executive chairman and founder of the Pythian Group, an Ottawa, Ontario, database administration outsourcing company. "It doesn't matter how far back you go. This is where the software comes into its own."

Another user echoed Vallée.

"I felt that Oracle 11g R1 was a reasonably solid project," said Ian Abramson, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group, via e-mail. "[But] people will now feel more confident with this release as it has had time to mature and gain stability."

Meanwhile, the new features are "all at the heart of what customers need," said Forrester Research analyst James Kobielus. "A great many Oracle customers have already migrated to 11g or are on 10g and making heavy use of RAC. Every single one of them ... will undoubtedly be avidly adopted by core enterprise customers for the most demanding apps. ... I wouldn't say any of these are bells and whistles."

It remains to be seen how Oracle's pending deal to buy Sun Microsystems will alter its overall database strategy, since the deal would include the popular open-source MySQL database.

The Sun deal could also affect Oracle's Exadata data warehousing product line, which was announced to much fanfare at last year's OpenWorld conference. The line employs Hewlett-Packard ProLiant servers and Oracle software.

It's not inconceivable that Oracle will break with HP and revamp Exadata using Sun servers, in Vallée's view.

"Oracle will be able to recreate the [Exadata] roadmap on their own hardware," he said.

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