IBM refines DB2's manageability

It can be frightening to think about just how much trust a company, especially one with mission-critical Web-based applications, must put in its enterprise database environment. To avoid making the wrong choice, companies generally stick to a small group of top-tier products when making a buying decision. IBM's DB2 is among those on the short list of high-end solutions. DB2 has flirted at the altar of greatness but never quite reached the pinnacle, due in part to a more complicated management environment and its lack of optimisation for Web-based application development.

But with Version 7.1, a major new release of the software recently announced, IBM has introduced a range of improvements that addresses many of those shortcomings. The new version makes the database easier to manage, more friendly for Web application developers, and readily deployable for decision support analysis.

DB2's strengths have always been scalability and a wide range of supported platforms. With last year's release of the Satellite and Everywhere Editions (Version 6.1), IBM added mobile devices to its list of supported environments.

Oracle8i remains a formidable contender, thanks to an unsurpassed feature set that facilitates integration with Web applications. For example, Oracle provides an Internet File System that lets you define a database as a shared, easily accessible network drive. Meanwhile, on Windows, Microsoft has augmented SQL Server with remarkable ease of use and integration with its own Web and applications development tools.

So it's no surprise that many of the enhancements IBM has introduced in DB2 7.1 make the product easier to use and invigorate the connectivity features both to Web applications and to data external to the database. For example, to make the product more apropos for business intelligence applications, DB2 now includes an online analytical processing (OLAP) starter kit that delivers full data analysis functionality for a limited number of users.

The OLAP kit should satisfy the requirements of smaller installations; it creates, via guided dialogue boxes, cubes of data that end-users can analyse from their Lotus 1-2-3 or Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. And, thanks to a comprehensive, step-by-step tutorial, no formal training is required to become familiar with this mini-OLAP (which is also compatible with the full version of the IBM OLAP server).

Another example of DB2's newfound simplicity is wizard implementations that can help you complete many DB2 tasks. These wizards include "road maps" on each screen that let you quickly navigate back and forth inside the wizard windows rather than move through the process sequentially.

I was happy to find that IBM eliminated the awkward eight-character limitation for DB2 user authentication. You can now define DB2 users to as many as 30 characters long. This will get nods of approval in shops that have adopted or want to adopt Windows NT authentication; now you can open a single user ID for both Windows and DB2.

DB2 7.1 also adds a handful of badly needed features that go beyond mere convenience issues. Among these is support for nested stored procedures, a feature that competing products already offer. This feature lets you activate one stored procedure from within another.

Although not yet packaged in the beta code, I was excited to learn of extended support for XML that will be included in the shipping version, expected in June. Currently, the XML Extender is available as a free download from IBM's Web site. DB2 users will be able to store XML documents in their entirety or by each field's definition. This vastly improves DB2's ability to store and retrieve XML data types.

Getting better

With Version 7.1, IBM is clearly steering DB2 toward a more open environment, increasing its ability to utilise current driving standards. Moreover, by enhancing ease of use, this version of the database is less expensive to manage. Although DB2 isn't a slam dunk (companies will still have to evaluate it alongside Oracle8i and SQL Server), it stands its ground as a high-performance, full-featured data solution.the bottom lineIBM DB2 7.1 betaBu-siness Case: With enhanced ease of use for management features, such as OLAP data analysis capabilities and support for nested stored procedure, DB2 should be welcomed by database administrators as a host for all types of environments, including e-commerce Te-chnology Case: Version 7.1 has welcome new features, and the beta release tested was trouble-free, although some key functions required a separate downloadPr-os:l Simplified administration and migration path l New business intelligence capabilities l Strong scalability l Support for all major platformsCo-ns: --l -Backward-compatibility problems potentially created with existing DB2 databasesl XML enhancements not present in betaPl-atforms:Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, Linux, OS/2, AS/400, OS/390, Numa-Q, Windows 2000Price-: Available on application.

-Availibility: Shipping in June 2000.