Vendors bring databases into an XML-oriented world

Oracle is touting XML support as a major feature of release 2 of its 9i database, which is due next month.

Oracle is touting XML support as a major feature of release 2 of its 9i database, which is due next month.

About 150 people attended an Oracle 9i roadshow last week to hear about release 2 of the product.

Oracle Asia-Pacific 9i marketing director Peter Thomas says in particular the new release focuses on enabling XML (extensible markup language) data to be stored in the database. XML describes the content of data messages and allows them to be exchanged between different computer systems.

“XML is a new data set like object and relational data,” says Thomas. “Basically it’s a hierarchy. If you throw this structure into a text field or large object called a blob, you lose the hierarchy.”

Release 2 of 9i introduces a new data type called XML data type which understands what XML is, says Thomas. Users can have XML data in the database and use SQL to query it.

“Object technology is crucial to this being successful. We use the object/relational technology that we developed for version 8 so we can store the XML data type inside the object database.

“I think you’ll find that other databases don’t store XML data with the SQL data. It sits outside the database which means you end up with silos of information.”

However, US-based Nelson Mattos, an IBM engineer and director of IBM’s information integration group, says IBM also plans to extend the core database engine currently in DB2 to include support for XML, with technologies such as new index structures that relate to XML.

Another technology that release 2 beefs up is business intelligence, says Thomas.

“BI is becoming more important. The old style was to take data and pump it into the database every night or every two nights. Today people are wanting to work with a window of hours.”

For example, Oracle customer France Telecom puts all its call data into a database every two hours.

Oracle has now extended the OLAP functionality it introduced to the 9i database kernel, so that release 2 has all the functionality of Oracle Express — a purpose built business intelligence database.

Of the 550 Oracle database customers in New Zealand, about 40 are using Oracle 9i which, launched last June. Oracle New Zealand marketing manager Nigel Murphy expects this to increase to 150 in the next year.

Thomas says many Oracle customers use their databases to do things other than storing data. For example, one company decided to throw out its NT file servers and use Oracle’s IFS (internet file system) capability to manage documents.

He admits that high end business intelligence, documentation management and XML customers might choose specialised solutions but many find they save money by having their data in one place, and leveraging their existing database investment.

Meanwhile, IBM and Microsoft are taking a different tack to extend their database functionality by offering new content management servers that run on their databases.

IBM plans to release the next version of its content management software, Content Manager 8.0, by mid-year, according to a company representative. The new version includes workflow capabilities, enhanced text indexing and searching.

When taken with IBM’s database — which is also slated for a mid-year upgrade — and its application server and portal, Content Manager provides a stack for accessing a variety of data types that can be viewed through the portal interface.

With SQL Server, the Windows operating systems, and its Content Management Server, Microsoft offers a similar stack.

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