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Oracle pitches database future on XML

Unstructured data to become ancient problem in latest 10g.

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Oracle will support advanced XML features in the imminent release of its 10g database, including the emerging W3C standard XQuery for accessing unstructured XML data, the company has announced.

Database companies are vying to outdo each other in their support of XML. Chief Oracle rival, IBM, will release its "Viper" update to DB2 next year with hybrid support for both traditional structured data and native support for XML.

About 80 to 85 percent of corporate data is unstructured, in the form of word processing documents, PDF files and content management systems, according to industry observers. XML is designed to handle such data by arranging it into hierarchies, rather than distorting it into the tables used by relational databases.

Major database players have begun adding XML features to their products to allow them to handle unstructured data, for example by putting the XML data into a format such as a Character Large Object (CLOB) or Binary Large Object (BLOB) that can be handled by a relational database. IBM's approach is different with Viper, handling both structured and unstructured data natively (without the need for BLOBs). IBM argues this is far more efficient, while Oracle argues IBM's approach is overkill.

Oracle debuted a native XML store called XML DB in its 9i Release 2 database. Oracle 10g R2 debuts a native XQuery engine integrated with the traditional Oracle database server. XQuery is a query language for XML that emulates the way SQL functions for relational data. The XQuery standard is nearing finalisation by the W3C.

In the past, approaches based on DOM (Document Object Model) or XSLT (eXtensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) have been used to query XML databases; XQuery needs a fraction of the code of such approaches, and can address more types of data, among other advantages, according to Oracle.

The XQuery engine in 10g R2 supports the April 2005 version of the XQuery specification, but compatibility with the final standard isn't guaranteed. Also, while the ability to search and manage unstructured data in the same way as the company's relational databases seems attractive on the surface, some industry observers say the actual demand doesn't yet live up to the XML rhetoric.

Other new features with R2 include automated backup-to-tape capabilities, a more practical way of encrypting stored data (Transparent Data Encryption) and a disaster-recovery system called Data Guard, Oracle said.

Oracle 10g R2 is scheduled for release on various platforms through this summer. A few IBM partners are currently testing Viper, with an open beta due later this year and launch set for the first half of 2006.

Oracle is neck-and-neck with IBM in database market share, according to Gartner, with each controlling about a third of the $7.8 billion worldwide relational database market last year. Microsoft had about 20 percent, Gartner said. IBM and Oracle compete in other areas besides databases, including identity management.




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