IBM opens DB2 8 beta to the public

Slapping the long-awaited version number “8” behind the letters DB2, IBM Corp. said Monday it is making available a public beta of its next-generation database.

DB2 8 brings the Armonk, N.Y.-based Big Blue’s database for Unix, Linux, and Windows systems into the realm of other IBM strategies, namely autonomic computing and Web services.

The beta focuses on improvements in four key areas: autonomic computing, information integration, and the usual performance and high-availability advancements.

The database includes two new autonomic computing features, Health Center and Configuration Advisor, for more effectively managing databases while reducing the number of DBAs (database administrators) required. Autonomic computing is an effort within IBM, as well as some other companies, to make systems self-managing, self-tuning, and self-healing.

Health Center is technology that monitors database systems and alerts DBAs to problems. It monitors aspects of the database such as the space that it is using and logs.

“Everyone has alerts, but we provide advice and the capability to take action on those alerts,” said Janet Perna, general manager of IBM’s data management solutions. “We send the alert and recommend what action to take on it,” which can be done via handhelds and PDAs as well as PCs.

Configuration Advisor is designed to help administrators tune and optimize DB2 for better performance. DBAs input information such as how much data they have as well as the number of users and applications. The software then handles configuration behind the scenes.

“We found that the two-week task of optimizing systems can be reduced to 20 minutes,” Perna said.

DB2 now taps into Web services for information integration purposes with Federated Web Services. This builds on IBM’s Garlic project and uses Web services to reduce the amount of code that programmers need to write and to enable real-time information integration. For instance, a company could build a system that presents the real-time value of a stockholder’s investment by integrating data from a stock quote service with a static database that houses the number of shares a client holds. The resulting service could retrieve information from both sources to deliver the value of that investment at a particular moment.

As with each new version of its database, IBM aimed to improve the performance and availability of this incarnation. On the performance front, DB2 Version 8 includes multidimensional clustering to increase query time. To improve the availability of its database, IBM added new functionality to allow online table reorganizations with data in place.

The sum of these new features, Perna said, is to more closely emulate IBM’s mainframe database on lower-end systems.

“We’re continuing to move more and more toward what we have on the 390,” she said.

However, analysts said making databases running on Unix and Windows servers more like mainframe databases, while a worthy goal, is no menial task.

“As with anything in the mainframe environment, it’s not just the software but it’s the discipline,” said Mike Schiff, an analyst tracking databases with Current Analysis, in Sterling Va.

Schiff expects that DB2 will help further IBM’s cause to win more customers in the mid-range server space.

“Despite this, Oracle is still the relational king off the mainframe,” Schiff said.

But IBM is gunning for that top spot in the non-mainframe realm. By the account of at least one analyst firm, in fact, IBM slid into pole position by acquiring Informix. Data from market research firm Gartner, based in Stamford, Conn., said that in 2001 IBM and Informix combined held 34.6 percent of worldwide license revenue for database management systems, while Oracle weighed in at 32 percent.

The public beta of DB2 8 will be available starting Tuesday; the final version is currently slated to ship in six to nine months, Perna said.