WebDB Offers Easier Web Site Management

Hands On: Oracle Corp.’s WebDB

The explosion of the Internet has produced a boom of people and businesses publishing their own Web pages. Many did not have a clue about Web-site publishing, much less site management. Now they find themselves struggling with business-sized Web sites.

The solution to this familiar difficulty is now eerily simple with a new tool called WebDB from Oracle Corp. In a radical shift from traditional Web publishing, Oracle places every part of the Web infrastructure into the Oracle database itself. Oracle also includes tools for system and database administration as well as monitoring, Web generation and reporting tools. While WebDB is positioned as a corporate tool, we see WebDB’s potential as an Internet Service Provider tool because of its strong remote management capabilities.

Oracle performs its magic by moving HTML files and graphics from a file-based system, and stores everything within the database. If you have an existing Web site, you can import it into the database intact. If you’re starting from scratch, WebDB has some slick wizards that make publishing a breeze. And it does all of this without requiring the webmaster to be a database administrator. In fact, any person publishing Web sites needs no knowledge of any database system to use WebDB.

Installation

We tested WebDB on two servers: The first was a 166-MHz Pentium Windows NT 4.0 server with 128 MB of RAM, and the second was a dual-processor 233-MHz Pentium MMX NT 4.0 server with 256 MB of memory. The installation exhibited all the problems and quirks common to a version 1.0 product, despite being presented as a v2 release. The trial version of WebDB was supplied on a pair of CDs, which required us to switch CDs to install the Oracle 8.0.5 database. In switching CDs, the auto-run function kept interrupting the dialog screens and made for a confusing installation. This caused some portions of WebDB to not be installed correctly the first time, including a critical component called the WebDB Listener function.

A call to Oracle’s tech support confirmed the problem. A workaround followed by a reinstall went off without a hitch. Oracle representatives say the test CDs we were using, while containing final code, were not the final packaging. They say the install problems we encountered have been resolved. The whole process, including installing Oracle 8.0.5, was completed on the low-end server in 45 minutes; it took about 20 minutes on the two-way machine. The entire process is automated via scripting and SQL, which brings the endeavor close to the proverbial single button installation.

The entire system consumed close to 300 MB of disk space before any Web pages were created, which was expected given that all tools and data are stored within the database. After installation is complete, you can customize nearly every part of the Web site using the browser.

Operations

Once installed, WebDB is accessed by pointing your browser at the WebDB site and logging in through a client username and password. All actions are carried out using the browser, enabling each publisher of a Web site to manage, administer and attend to their respective Web site independent of any other site contained within the database. We created several sites, and found this to be nice feature. By removing the Web content from a file structure to a database environment, Oracle also removed a security issue: individual files cannot be compromised with Oracle’s database security.

We tested the browser administration, a feature Oracle touts as a major improvement over its competitors. This is a big claim, but one that is on the money. We were able to manage every part of the site without needing to be a database administrator. Sure, the usual administrative details still exist, such as backups, but Web publishers need not concern themselves any longer with trivial details and can stay focused upon their job.

Reporting Tools

Using a test Web site we developed, we compared the ease of use for a site running on WebDB with a file-based version of the same site running on Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Information Server, which stores its monitoring data -- such as who visited and what they browsed -- in a SQL Server database. We used traffic analysis software from WebTrends Corp. (www.webtrends.com) and Crystal Reports from Seagate Software (www.seagatesoftware.com) to extract the data from SQL Server, collate it, and present it for reporting. We monitor traffic on several production Web servers using these same tools, and despite our existing reporting system, which is well-tuned for this task, we found WebDB’s approach to offer a significant boost in productivity in overall site management.

WebDB integrates reporting directly into the database, again reinforcing Oracle’s belief that placing complete faith in the database enhances site performance. We found this to be true, albeit with some caveats. The 128-MB Pentium 166 server was stressed with only a single Web site, having only 31 MB of physical memory free and a heavy reliance on paging. As we expected, the dual processor machine handled the same scenario easier and with quicker response times.

Granted, modern servers are not Pentium 166 systems, but there still are many of these systems in use that are potential candidates for a simple solution like WebDB.

Final Word

WebDB is a capable system that shines on a properly equipped server. Daily administration, reporting and growth analysis of the system is easy to use, yet powerful enough to run Oracle’s in-house operations. In the end, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Oracle WebDB provides the kind of simple operations that make Web life easier and more productive for anyone.

Oracle WebDB 2.0
Oracle Corp.
Redwood Shores, Calif.
(650) 506-7000
www.oracle.com

Price: The list price is $195 per concurrent user in the U.S. and $245 per concurrent user internationally. Appropriate database licensing still applies.

Database Support: Oracle WebDB will be available as an addition to Oracle8i and as a standalone product for use with Oracle databases version 7.3.4 and above.

Platforms: WebDB is in production for Windows NT, the most popular versions of Unix, Linux and Novell Inc.’s NetWare 5.0. It is being ported to OpenVMS.

+ Easy to use and administer
+ Oracle database security extends to all pages and content
+ Available for numerous platforms

- Install process was confusing
- Requires use of Oracle database
- Requires hefty server