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IBM tests "self-healing" software

Big Blue takes aim at Oracle with its new database management software that can anticipate problems and give database administrators advice on how to fix them.

IBM is taking aim at Oracle with new database management software that can anticipate problems and give database administrators advice on how to fix them.

IBM is expected to release a test version of its latest DB2 database on Monday. IBM executives say the new version is faster and more reliable with improved support for emerging Web services, which are designed to help companies interact via the Internet.

Version 8 of DB2 is IBM's latest weapon in trying to grab more market share from rival Oracle in the $12.7 billion annual market for databases, software that is crucial for businesses and Web sites because it stores, manages and retrieves large amounts of data. In the market for modern databases, which excludes databases for mainframe computers, IBM has been capturing market share but still ranks second behind Oracle, according to a recent study by analyst firm IDC.

Oracle leads the market with 42.5 percent, followed by IBM with 31.1 percent and Microsoft with 8.5 percent.

IDC analyst Carl Olofson said IBM's newest database is a strong product that could compete well against Oracle, which recently released the second version of its 9i database. The new features in DB2 position IBM not only for the lucrative large corporate market, but for midsize businesses, a market that is seeing a surge in sales, he said.

"IBM's done a lot of work on it, and it shores up a lot of characteristics in the product that may have been competitive issues" in the past, Olofson said. "It's easier to manage--better performance, more efficient storage, more XML support. It's the things that database administrators get excited about."

Several months ago, IBM released a test version of the newest DB2 to a few of its customers. IBM on Monday is releasing the test version to the general public with plans to ship the final version late this year or early next year, said Janet Perna, general manager of IBM's database management solutions.

Topping the list of new DB2 features is the new "self-healing" capability, Perna said. It's part of IBM's strategy for autonomic computing, the science of creating computing systems that can configure, tune and even repair themselves.

One new DB2 feature, called Health Center, continually monitors the health of the database, Perna said. If it finds a potential problem, such as the database running out of memory to store data, the database can automatically notify administrators via e-mail, pager or personal digital assistant, she said. The database will also give advice on how to fix the problem.

Perna said another new feature, called "Configuration Advisor" can save database administrators time by automatically configuring a database for use, such as processor speeds, the amount of memory that needs to be allocated, and the number of users on the system.

IBM has improved its database "federation" technology to include support for Web services, she said. IBM's federation technology had previously allowed companies to easily connect IBM's DB2 with rival databases from Oracle and Microsoft, allowing them to access and analyze the information, regardless of where the data sits.

The Web services support for IBM's federation technology will speed access to information, in the case of, say, a company wanting to access inventory data from a business partner, Perna said. If the inventory data were made available as a Web service, the company could easily fetch it from the business partner's database--and use it as if it were part of the company's own database, she said.

Perna added that the database also offers improved support for XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for data exchange that is the cornerstone of Web services.

But missing from the new version of DB2 is data-access technology called Xperanto, which IBM has been hyping. The internal IBM project, which the company began to demonstrate earlier this year, will allow businesses to take all types of data--XML documents, spreadsheets, information stored inside databases--and have it appear as if they were stored in one single database.

Perna said the Xperanto technology is still being developed and will be included in future database technology.