Oracle has released Database 11g, the first major refresh of its database management software in over three years, making it smaller and greener.

The company promised customers hundreds of new features including the ability to patch without taking systems offline, simplified application testing, and several green upgrades, such as data compression, to make it three times smaller.

Oracle Database 11g is the successor to 10g, which shipped in February 2004. After 10 months of beta testing, Oracle yesterday described 11g in detail for the first time, saying it stems from the work of 1,500 developers and 15 million hours of testing.

Oracle president Charles Phillips emphasised 11g's ability to save space and power, during a launch event in New York City yesterday.

"Every customer is looking at this space issue, the fact that they're buying so many disks. The cost of data centres alone is a big concern." Phillips said. "We built in advanced compression. We compress the data on the fly for you automatically, so you get a 3X savings on disk space."

Another space-saving feature takes standby databases - normally kept in reserve in case the main system crashes - and offloads certain tasks to them. The standby database is simultaneously available for reporting, backup, testing and rolling upgrades of production databases.

Oracle also added what it calls "real application testing" to help customers quickly test and manage changes, such as database and operating system software upgrades.

These features save space by eliminating the need for a dedicated test server and backup recovery server, Phillips said. "Everybody wants a greener data centre," he said.

Oracle, which has been criticised for not quickly providing patches, said it added a "rolling patching" system to its latest database to update the grid automatically with no downtime.

"This is a breakthrough we think is huge," Phillips said. "You don't want to take systems down."

More than a third of Oracle database customers who attended the Independent Oracle Users Group annual conference plan to upgrade to 11g within one year, and more than half will upgrade within a few years, the group said.

IOUG president Ari Kaplan spoke at Oracle's launch event and praised the company for helping customers with regulatory compliance.

11g introduces Total Recall, a query tool allowing administrators to look at data from any time in the past, which Oracle says will be useful for tracking data changes, auditing and compliance.

The price of 11g was not released. When asked, an Oracle spokeswoman said "we'll have more to share regarding pricing in the near term."

Oracle launched 11g at an event featuring James Burke, science historian, author, producer and host of the BBC series, "Connections." Burke said 11g will "free up the massive potential of the brainpower in companies," adding that "in this new age of innovation speed is the key, not only to innovate but to do it faster."

Oracle partners followed up with their own announcements, including EMC, which said it will support Database 11g, and the vendor Application Security, which said its database security suite will also support 11g.