IBM Database Update Sports BI-friendly Features

From advanced query performance to Cube Views, there's plenty for BI users to like in the "Stinger" release of IBM's DB2 database system

This week, IBM announced the first public preview of “Stinger,” the next-generation release of its DB2 Universal Database.

Up to this point, Big Blue has emphasized Stinger’s performance, availability, and ease-of-use enhancements, but the next-generation database also ships with several BI-friendly additions. What’s more, officials say, as IBM preps Stinger for release later this year, one or two additional BI features could find their way into the as-yet-unnamed database.

For starters, says Paul Rivot, worldwide director of database servers for IBM, Stinger features a revamped version of IBM’s DB2 Design Advisor, which he says is ideally suited for data warehousing applications.

“As you build from small systems to one- or two-way systems, the Design Advisor allows the database administrator to very easily partition the database,” Rivot explains. “So in minutes, [Design Advisor] can help you spread the data out across the board. Usually, that seems to be the kind of [functionality] that’s a good fit for data warehousing applications.”

Other enhancements include a tweaked version of the DB2 Cube Views technology that IBM introduced last year. Customers can use DB2 Cube Views to define OLAP-centric meta data—including hierarchies, dimensions, attributes, and business rules or formulas—and store it as a transparent extension to DB2. The Stinger version of this technology has been tweaked to enhance query performance, says Rivot. “We’ve got these query tables, so that you can build access into the database, these materialized views, basically what it does is it optimizes your access to cubes,” he comments.

Elsewhere in the area of query optimizations, Stinger includes a new query optimization technology from IBM’s LEarning Optimization (LEO) research and development project. According to Rivot, LEO helps to automate, simplify, and accelerate queries without requiring the attention of a database administrator (DBA).

Not surprisingly, he argues, the LEO technology has broader BI ramifications: “This is very, very big in BI. Typically in BI, if you don’t do a correct query, say you’re at a big bank and you’re trying to take a look at a customer worldwide, trying to take a look at what they’re doing, a lot of times people will create these crazy queries that run on forever. So this is helpful.”

Another feature that’s new in Stinger, called Query Patroller, helps DBAs identify and kill runaway queries. “That’s good for a BI-type query, if all of the sudden it finds out that you have the … runaway query and it’s taking up all of the capabilities of the machine, it will stop the query from running,” Rivot notes.

Thanks to IBM’s DB2 Spatial Extender, Stinger can store three-dimensional geospatial data that is both location- and time-and-space-aware, Rivot says. “We’re starting to see a lot more folks taking advantage of the spatial [capabilities] for BI, saying, you know, ‘Show me on a map—you can do this based on ZIP codes—where most of my customers are,’” he explains.

IBM has been putting the finishing touches on Stinger in a phased approach, Rivot observes, and at this point, the Stinger feature set is largely frozen. However, he says, IBM hasn’t ruled out additional changes—such as, for example, folding existing products or technologies into the database.

One such potential addition, called Office Connect, is a BI technology that allows Microsoft Excel users to access DB2. “We see a lot of folks taking advantage of it [who] are traditional Microsoft Excel users. That seems to be kind of the real base, because it provides entry-level query reporting and query services,” Rivot confirms. “We’re being asked [to include] that [with the next version of DB2], so there is some consideration.”

Finally, DB2’s many BI-specific offshoots, such as DB2 Data Warehouse Edition and the DB2 Information Integrator products, should ship at or shortly after the next-generation database’s official launch data.

In the past, IBM’s DB2 public betas have lasted about six months, which would put Stinger on track for release in late 2004. That’s a realistic expectation, Rivot says, but don’t try to hold IBM to it. “We’re just telling everybody [that we’ll release the next version of DB2] later this year, but just like anything, if we think of something else that we want to include, it could push it back,” he concludes.

Among analysts, Current Analysis’ Schiff thinks that DB2 Stinger could have some impact in the data warehousing space, thanks to its revamped Design Advsior tool. “They’ve enhanced the DB2 Design Advisor to do a whole bunch of other things, including how to partition a database, and that obviously is to going to have an impact on the data warehousing space,” he comments.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.