Oracle is hoping that the new features offered in Oracle Database 11g, will lead users to migrate to the major release of the vendor's database sooner rather than later.

The new version is Oracle's successor to the 10g releases 1 and 2 of its database. The company has worked closely with customers over the course of a lengthy beta testing programme, which began in September, and some of those users noted that it had been hard to pin Oracle down on a launch date for 11g. The vendor only publicly committed to July 11 as the database's coming-out party just over a month ago.

"Oracle was a little bit more cautious, wanting to make sure they got the product right," said Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG), which was heavily involved in the 11g beta testing program.

IOUG members are bullish on their plans to move to the new database. A recent poll of around 400 of them indicated that 35 percent of respondents planned to upgrade to 11g within a year of its release, with an additional 53 percent looking to move to the new database in the next few years, according to Kaplan. This is an improvement on previous surveys about earlier Oracle releases, where the same percentage looked to migrate within the first 18 months following a new version of the database.

Kaplan was particularly interested in the improved integration of 11g with Oracle's Audit Vault and Database Vault software. "There's a key flaw with all databases," he said. "If they're smart, a DBA can modify data and cover their tracks" since DBAs tend to have unlimited access to databases. The technologies in Oracle's vaulting software make that impossible since every action a DBA executes effectively "goes into a lockbox that they are powerless to modify," Kaplan added.

Wachovia hopes to complete its internal process to certify 11g for use within the organisation by the end of the year and then to have its migration efforts well under way in 2008, according to Ed Mulheren, senior database administrator at the financial services company.

He said that the improved security features in 11g will help Wachovia meet the ever-increasing regulatory demands in the financial services market. Mulheren also welcomes smaller additions like 11g's support of case-sensitive passwords, which brings security for the Oracle database more in line with Wachovia's security policies for its Windows desktops. It also means that users have to remember fewer passwords, he said.

Arup Nanda, senior director of database engineering and architecture at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide expects his organisation will move to 11g in 2008. The hotel chain runs its main business on the HP-UX operating system on top of Itanium-powered computers and the 11g beta wasn't available on that platform. "So, we will have to settle for the production release later this year and then at least six months of testing after that," he said. Starwood uses Oracle's database for almost all of its business processes including reservations, check-in and out processes and guest loyalty programmes.

He singles out the Database Replay and SQL Performance Analyzer features as giving customers "the biggest bang for the buck." Other useful functionalities include the Transparent Tablespace Encryption, Virtual Columns and Partitioning enhancements, Nanda added. There are several features he would've liked to see in 11g including the ability to make a tablespace read only when there are active transactions in the database on different tablespaces.

Mike Amble, senior vice president of operations and engineering at Fidelity National Information Services Inc., sees the new Fast Files feature as particularly useful to his organisation. The company provides technologies to financial institutions and handles mortgage loan processing.

"We tend to deal with a lot of odd forms of information," he said. For instance, when a house is sold, all the documents related to the sale including appraisals and title documents are sent back to the mortgage company in paper form and then scanned and stored. Fast Files will allow users to store large objects like images in the 11g database as fast as storing such unstructured information in traditional file systems.

Like other beta testers, Amble also welcomes Real Application Testing, the ability for customers to effectively record a segment of their database operations and then use and replay that recording as a testing environment instead of having to spend months creating a testbed.

Fidelity's already a strong user of Oracle's Data Guard software for disaster recovery and Amble's interested that the technology is now also offered in 11g as a way for users to offload workloads from their production database to the standby system they can automatically set up using Data Guard.

Amble hopes to migrate his organisation over to 11g in 2008. "In the beta testing, we've not found a lot of issues, it should be a very easy transition," he said. One area where he'd like to see Oracle become more open is in enabling the management of multiple encryption tools, both Oracle and third-party software.

Andy Mendelsohn, senior vice president of database server technologies at Oracle, estimated that more than 1,500 developers and technicians have worked on 11g. The company engaged in a "huge amount of testing," he said, running the beta software on Oracle's server farm of more than 2,000 processors.

The company already has a parallel development project under way to work on 11g release 2. One area not mentioned in the listing of 11g's new features is grid computing, that's what the "g" in both 10g and 11g stands for. "We're doing a lot of work in grid technologies for the next release, which will make grid infrastructure even easier to adopt," Mendelsohn said.

Mendelsohn also confirmed earlier reports that Oracle won't be rushing to bring out an 11g update for its free Express Edition (XE) database. The new version will likely come with the release of 11g release 2.

According to Gartner's latest figures released in June, Oracle was the worldwide market leader in the relational database management system market with a 47.1 percent share, trailed by rivals IBM in second place with 21.1 percent of the market and Microsoft in third position with a 17.4 percent share. Back in April, fellow analyst IDC's initial 2006 figures painted much the same picture.

"We don't really worry about the competition," said Charles Phillips, Oracle's president. "We have such a lead." Oracle's challenge is how fast it can meet its customers' needs, he added. He dismissed IBM as deriving 90 percent of their database revenue from mainframe and Microsoft as being "regulated to Windows." Oracle offers its database on a number of operating systems, including Linux.