Databases: A Few Summer Refreshments

Looking around this summer for a database server to run on Windows NT/2000? New choices are popping up at three of the biggest vendors. Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp., and IBM Corp. are all refreshing their flagship database systems with expanded XML support and other iterative improvements.

"The big issue is that databases these days tend to be evolutionary, not revolutionary," says Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing at Current Analysis Inc. ( "It’s a mature market."

IBM ( recently released DB2 version 7.1. Oracle ( is promising Oracle8i Release 3; and Microsoft ( is in late beta testing with SQL Server 2000.

IBM added a Net search extender that enables high-speed searches and is integrated with the database, and an XML extender that will allow customers to put whole XML documents into DB2 and build XML documents from SQL query results. DB2 7.1 also passed the stringent Windows 2000 certification process, meaning it installs itself according to Microsoft’s best practices and exploits operating system capabilities. The database also carries a language for writing stored procedures. DB2 will ship with an IBM OLAP server and starter kit.

When Oracle first announced the third generation of its Oracle8i database, it gave an availability date of this summer. Release 3 is expected to incorporate Java and XML technologies, as well as the addition of stronger security.

The newest version will include common Java and XML services between Oracle8i Release 3 and Oracle Application server 8i Java Servlets; JavaServer Pages (JSP); Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE); and Oracle8i JVM Accelerator. In addition, an XML SQL utility will be included to ease the reading and writing of XML documents in their native format.

Triple data encryption standard in the database, secure socket layer encryption of HTML connections, and integration with Public Key Infrastructure, all add to the security of the new release. Additionally, a Procedural Language/SQL (PL/SQL) gateway allows HTTP calls to be made directly to PL/SQL.

Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 is also scheduled for a summer release. This version doesn’t represent as much of a reworking of the SQL Server code base as its predecessor -- SQL Server 7.0 -- but SQL Server 2000 contains its fair share of new features. One is the database platform's integrated XML support, which Microsoft says will let developers use tools to manipulate XML inside a database and retrieve XML-based data from a database without the need for programming.

Since Microsoft positions SQL Server 2000 as a major component of its e-commerce strategy, the database will support Microsoft's BizTalk XML framework and BizTalk Server 2000 XML server.

To enhance the existing OLAP support, SQL Server 2000 will include an integrated data mining feature that boosts its business intelligence portfolio. The only rebranding Microsoft will do is with SQL Server 2000’s integrated OLAP and data mining services that will be renamed Analysis Services.

With all three vendors releasing new editions around the same time, one has to wonder if there were ulterior motives in the scheduling. Schiff does not believe this is the case. "You don't want to announce a database early. Timing is everything in this business so you need to be real careful. Generally, you don't want to make a new announcement at the end of fiscal year."