The next version of Oracle’s database, due to be shown at the OracleWorld event in San Francisco on 7 September, will be designed for use on computer grids – distributed sets of interconnected servers. However, the “grid” soubriquet may turn out to be window dressing for a product whose new features are far more practical. A beta version of the system has already set a transaction processing record, breaking 800,000 TPC-C transactions per minute for the first time.

Oracle will call the database Oracle 10G, in an attempt to repeat the branding success of its previous version 9i (the i stood for Internet) and 9i RAC (real application clusters), both of which promised performance in currently fashionable areas.

However, while grids promise greater scalability and use of idle resources on a network, other improvements in the database, such as better XML handling, Web services APIs and support for files as large as 8-exabyte are straightforward improvements in database technology. The database, according to beta tester comments reported on the Net, will go higher and lower than previous versions. It will handle metadata better, including the export of definitions and other information through procedure calls. And it will also manage the underlying storage to a greater extent than previous versions.

The release of Oracle 10G is likely to be phased sometime after the September demo. And, while grid support is part of the publicity, users are sceptical: a beta tester in Toronto, quoted in eWeek, didn’t expect Oracle to provide true grid support for at least five years in Oracle 12.

Last week, another beta tester, Hewlett-Packard, published transaction processing results in which Oracle 10G broke the 800.000 transactions per minute (TPM) barrier on a 64-way HP Superdome based on Itanium 2 processors.

One interesting sidelight is that the Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) publishes results for the cost per transaction as well as basic speed. It is possible to glean from these results that HP expects Oracle 10G to sell for around $20,000 per server on a Superdome, substantially cheaper than the $40,000 that 9iRAC costs.

“My biggest question [on grid] would be prove it,” said analyst James Governor of RedMonk. “The idea of a grid database is very appealing but I would need to see it in practice. The great majority of production deployments of 9i RAC are 8 to 16 way systems.” While grid preformance is a nice thing to promise, basic issues like transaction processing will be what count, and Oracle has clearly not forgotten this. “The battle around scale up is definitely heating up, whatever Oracle calls the database,” said Governor.