Revamped Oracle Database Packs BI Enhancements

XQuery support, .NET support among BI-friendly features

Last week, Oracle Corp. delivered the long-awaited Release 2 of its flagship 10g database.

In the PR onslaught that accompanied the product's release, Oracle trumpeted the security, manageability, and scalability enhancements it built into the revamped 10g, but the company didn’t exactly skimp on the BI front, either.

For starters, there’s native support for the XML Query (XQuery) language—long-promised and finally delivered. For some time now, Oracle has provided a non-native XQuery implementation through its Oracle Developer’s Network, but 10g R2 marks the first time that XQuery—frequently touted as a (prospective) lingua franca for querying structured and unstructured data sources—goes native.

There are other security and structural enhancements, too, including Fast-Start Failover for rapid recovery from database faults, enhanced storage management capabilities, and improved database-level encryption.

This could be a boon for BI and CRM application development. “[T]he Oracle advanced Security option now includes a Transparent Data Encryption facility that allows data such as Social Security or credit card numbers to be automatically encrypted and decrypted without having to modify the code of any authorized application,” explains Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc. “When combined with features such as the new Oracle Secure Backup, it will provide a strong layer of protection in the event a backup copy of the database is misappropriated or lost.”

There’s also an out-of-process implementation of Microsoft’s Common Language Runtime (CLR). CLR is Microsoft’s answer to the write-once, run-anywhere promise of Java and the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Unlike the JVM, which is a Java-only proposition, CLR proposes to let programmers write code in the language of their choice. Its job is to take this code (Visual Basic, C++, or C#, for example) and generate .NET-managed code at run-time.

Microsoft is taking CLR native in SQL Server 2005. This means that CLR will run in the SQL Server database engine itself—a very controversial move. The good news is that it promises better performance than a non-native (out-of-process) CLR implementation such as that proffered by Oracle in 10g R2. The bad news is that it entails certain risks (e.g., data integrity, application reliability, application bloat).

In this respect, Oracle’s out-of-process CLR implementation gives developers who aren’t well-versed in the company’s flavor of SQL a way to write stored procedures and database triggers in the language(s) of their choosing. This code won’t execute as quickly or as efficiently as will stored procedures or database triggers written in Oracle’s proprietary SQL variant, but it does lower the bar to entry for 10g database development without necessarily endangering the consistency of data stored in 10g.

Elsewhere, Oracle says it has significantly enhanced the scalability of its Real Application Clusters (RAC) clustering technology, which now supports up to 100 servers in a cluster. Aside from hosting large or high-performance BI applications or data warehouses, Oracle’s improved RAC capabilities could also be a boon to 10g R2’s integrated OLAP capabilities. In the past, Oracle has used RAC to post impressive scores in the (largely defunct) APB-1 OLAP benchmark.

All told, says Schiff, 10g R2 is a very important release for Oracle. “[I]t provides enhancements and new functionality which will serve to only strengthen the already strong and market leading product and thus benefit those that deploy it in their applications and solutions,” he concludes. “It also represents the latest evolution of Oracle’s flagship offering and provides a clear demonstration of Oracle’s commitment to enhancing its database technology as it continues to expand its enterprise application presence.”

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About the Author

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