There is no non-biological entity that can compare to the human brain's ability to process massive amounts of different types of data, integrate it, analyze it, and respond to it in a split second. But to hear the major database vendors tell it, they're coming close.
Major changes in database technology on the way from vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Sybase include the ability to store semi-structured and unstructured data in a relational database and converge OLTP and analytics into a single database that handles both transaction and analysis simultaneously. Lower total cost of ownership (TCO) will also be a central theme in the next generation of database technology.
The marriage of analytics and OLTP, in fact, goes hand in glove with the move by IT leaders to consolidate systems in the datacenter, according to Barry Shuler, CTO at Marriott International.
"We want to store and retrieve data faster and take it out of a warehouse. There is no need to have separate reporting from the transaction system. We would want to run the transaction system and reporting system on a single physical entity," Shuler said.
In an exclusive to InfoWorld, Sybase revealed that this fall it will release ASE 15 (Adaptive Server Enterprise), an OLTP relational database that will include a sophisticated query processing engine with algorithmic similarities to the analytics done by Sybase IQ, its data warehousing tool.
"It's not replacing IQ, but it is expanding what ASE can do in a mixed environment," said Tom Traubitz, senior marketing manager at Sybase.
By mixed environment Traubitz is referring to changing requirements in telecommunications, healthcare, and retail. In these industries and others, customers want a database to process, read, and write data, as is typical of an OLTP database, while simultaneously retrieving and analyzing the data as happens in a data warehouse.
The database paradigm is shifting from request-response to triggers that emit messages when something interesting happens, according to Traubitz. As the database becomes more of an active partner in the environment, sending messages to applications, in three to five years customers can expect to see a technology that Traubitz calls "steams."
"The concept here is that you define the question in advance then you file the data past the question. The data is like a stock ticker going by," Traubitz said.
Microsoft also is moving slowly and steadily toward a convergence of OLTP and analytics, according to Tom Rizzo, Microsoft's director of product management for SQL Server. The forthcoming version of SQL Server, due in the second half of 2005, will have analysis services on top of relational rows and columns, and non-relational unstructured data, Rizzo said. Within the ETL (Extraction Transformation and Loading) tool, Microsoft will integrate the analytics right in the pipeline as the data is flowing in real-time, he added.
Microsoft will also add to SQL Server what it calls "proactive caching." Using this design, as data comes into the OLTP system it is cached and aggregated according to standard statistical algorithms that do "sum," "deviation," "min and max," "average," and "ceiling."
"We can slice the data according to whatever you tell us," Rizzo said.
While all the database vendors say they can do this now, Donald Feinberg, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said it just isn't so.