New releases of Oracle's core database software come around about as often as presidential elections. So it's no surprise that the company is spending a good chunk of Wednesday explaining to the world why its new 11g software was worth the wait.
Oracle 11g is focused on supporting fast-moving businesses and the hundreds of terabytes of data they accumulate, said Bob Shimp, Oracle's vice president of product marketing. It supports faster application deployments and is more efficient at using storage than previous releases, he said.
The database business itself isn't known for rapid change. Oracle, despite years of work--and many large acquisitions--intended to build its software applications business, still draws nearly 70 percent of its revenue from database software, as it did more than a decade ago.
What has changed is how companies use that software. New drivers for database sales include more widespread use of imaging--maps, medical images, photos and videos--that companies continue to accumulate, along with storage and management of RFID data, said Shimp.
Taken collectively, "content management" is one of the main catalysts for expanding database sales, said Andy Mendelsohn, senior vice president of server technologies at Oracle. In 11g, such unstructured data can be stored and retrieved more quickly than in previous releases, and it can be encrypted, said Mendelsohn.
Still, there's been lots of hand-wringing this week over whether Oracle's customers are willing to make the move to 11g. The main Oracle user group said that of the customers it has surveyed, 35 percent plan to upgrade within a year of 11g's release, and 53 percent plan to wait "a few years" until they upgrade.
While those figures may sound low, at least when viewed in comparison to consumer-focused software, they're actually very high for big-ticket, complex business software, Mendelsohn says. "Thirty-five percent in a year is actually about double the rate we've seen with past releases," he said.
Upgrading database software is a notoriously slow and painful process, said James Governor, an industry analyst with RedMonk. "There is often a lag (between database release and adoption), and it depends on the customer set."
"It's hard for us to predict the upgrade cycle. We're optimistic," Oracle's president Charles Phillips said during a press conference on Wednesday in New York.
Regardless, given Oracle's share of the database software market--nearly 50 percent according to Gartner--even a relatively low percentage of upgrades represents big money. Oracle remains the largest database seller, despite strong competition from Microsoft and IBM. Open-source alternatives, like MySQL continue to gain ground as well.
"One reason it's great to see the release of 11g is that all the buzz has been around the new applications-based business model. But the real heart of the Oracle franchise remains its relational database products. The database business is paying for a lot of change," said Governor.
Under the covers
Oracle said 11g introduces a number of big changes. One, called Real Application Testing can shorten the time needed to test new software applications against the 11g database, and make it easier to get those applications up and running. "It's a matter of days...versus months and months today," said Mendelsohn.
While 11g doesn't include a quantum leap in features over previous releases, it does pack some key advances over 10g, he said. One feature is compression of all data so that it takes less storage space. Oracle 10g included compression, but not for all data types, Mendelsohn said. Compression could be an important feature for companies managing large amounts of imaging data, for instance.
Another feature, called Data Guard, lets companies more easily switch over to standby copies of data in the event of an system failure.
Oracle didn't immediately announce pricing for 11g. A company representative said that information would be available within a few weeks.