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Update: As OpenWorld nears, details of Oracle 11g R2 database emerge and are suppressed

Oracle unusually secretive about its 'major database innovation'

By Eric Lai, Computerworld, and Chris Kanaracus, IDG News Service
September 18, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison appears to be taking a lesson out of the playbook of his buddy, Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs.

Ellison tantalized Wall Street this summer with promises of a "major database innovation" to be announced this month, presumably during the company's annual OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, which starts Sunday.

"It is going to be a very big and important announcement for us, so we are not standing still in database," Ellison said.

During its first quarter earnings conference call today, Oracle President Charles Phillips said the company will deliver an update to 11g this quarter, and confirmed that a database-related announcement would be made at OpenWorld, but did not provide specifics.

At the same time, Oracle has been more secretive than normal, presumably to build interest in this upgrade, Release 2 (R2) of its year-old 11g database.

The number of companies invited to the beta program is smaller than in years past, sources said. Those who did participate uniformly declined to reveal details about R2's features via their blogs or to reporters.

Moreover, in at least four cases, information about 11g R2 that was posted to the Web by Oracle or outside bloggers has been taken down, though evidence in Google Inc.'s search cache often remains.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Paul Vallee, CEO of The Pythian Group, an Ottawa, Ontario-based database services provider. His company was not invited to participate in the 11g R2 beta, despite having participated in every other recent one, he said.

So, what new features will arrive in 11g R2?

An Oracle spokesman declined a request for comment. But based on information gleaned via Web-based research, analyst interviews and Oracle's own prior statements, Oracle 11g R2 should include improvements in the following, somewhat overlapping areas:

Grid computing

Oracle Database is probably the most feature-rich database around, rivaled only by IBM's DB2. Yet, it possesses what some analysts consider an Achilles' heel -- its lack of true grid capabilities.

Oracle Database, along with Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server, Sybase Inc.'s Adaptive Server Enterprise and a few other relational databases, was built to have a "shared everything" architecture, said independent database analyst Curt Monash.

Typically in that design, one instance of an application is spread across multiple CPUs or servers, which share a common pool of memory and disk storage. The advantage is that users can "scale up" their applications quickly if demand arises, added Pythian's Vallee.

"You can take an application from Windows to an IBM z mainframe with literally no code changes," he said.

The downside is that Oracle's Real Application Clusters (RAC) do not easily allow multiple instances of the Oracle Database to be coordinated and run in parallel on hundreds or thousands of cheap PC servers. That sort of massive parallel computing (MPP), which Monash called a "shared nothing" architecture, has been the trend for almost a decade, especially among Internet companies with huge data centers, such as Google Inc.

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