Here’s why Oracle is offering Database 23c free to developers

Oracle’s change in strategy to release a developer-first version of its new database is linked to the company’s plans to defend its market dominance and look at innovative ways to acquire new customers, analysts said.

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Stiff competition from database rivals has forced Oracle to shift its strategy for its databases business in favor of developers, who could offer the company a much-needed impetus for growth.

In a shift from tradition, Oracle for the first time launched its upgraded database offering — Database 23c — available for developers before enterprises could get their hands on it, and it did so while offering it for free to developers.

Analysts claim that this change in strategy is linked to the database market leader’s attempt to protect its market dominance by trying to acquire customers through newer routes.

“Increasingly developers are driving development software selection and acquisition across enterprises and by focusing on developers, Oracle hopes to solidify its position with its customer base,” said Carl Olofson, research vice president at IDC.

OracleDB has been consistently occupying the top spot in database rankings. Oracle led the relational database management systems market in 2021 with a 32% share, closely followed by Microsoft with 31.7%, according to IDC. Market share data for 2022 is expected in May, the market research firm said.

A look at the market share data and the plethora of new and improved databases with their own unique propositions suggests that Oracle might only be marginally ahead of the competition, with smaller players likely chipping away at its customer base.

The change in strategy as well as pricing, according to dbInsight’s Principal Analyst Tony Baer, is Oracle’s way of lowering the barriers to its database adoption and “breaking through the perception that the database is not developer-friendly.”

What is Oracle Database 23C and what is new in it?

Oracle Database 23C, which was showcased last year at the company’s annual event, is the company’s latest long-term support release version of its database offering that comes with new features that make application development simple for developers, the company said.

“With Oracle Database 23c Free­–Developer Release, developers will be able to level up their skills and start building new apps using features such as the JSON Relational Duality which unifies the relational and document data models, SQL support for Graph queries directly on OLTP data, and stored procedures in JavaScript,” Juan Loaiza, executive vice president of mission-critical database technologies at Oracle, said in a statement.

JSON Relational Duality, according to the company, allows developers to build applications in either relational or JSON paradigms with a single source of truth.

“Data is held once, but can be accessed, written, and modified with either approach. Developers benefit from the best of both JSON and relational models, including ACID-compliant transactions and concurrency controls, which means they no longer have to make trade-offs between complex object-relational mappings or data inconsistency issues,” said Gerald Venzl, senior director for server technologies at Oracle.

“JSON Relational Duality allows users to store data in the relational model as tables and rows, and those tables can even include JSON column, JSON type column. So one can even just have native JSON documents as part of these tables and columns,” Venzl explained, adding that the company was essentially providing a mapping of JSON documents to relational tables inside the database.

This new feature, according to analysts, is a testament to Oracle’s understanding of the pain points of developers in general and combining the best of two data models.

“JSON Relational Duality overcomes the complaint of developers that they must handle only data predefined by database administrators, breaks down a key impediment to rapid development, and also ensures data consistency across JSON documents, which native document databases can’t currently do,” said Olofson.

The development of JSON Relational Duality, according to Ventana Research’s research director Matt Aslett, represents an acknowledgment by Oracle that many developers enjoy the flexibility and agility that is provided by the document model, but also a reminder that there are advantages associated with the relational model, including concurrency and ACID transactions.

“The JSON Duality View may particularly be useful in overcoming some of the challenges that come from providing multiple views of data stored in nested JSON, which can result in multiple indexes or data duplication,” Aslett said.

How does this affect MongoDB and other Oracle rivals?

The release of the new database version is expected to increase stickiness among developers, giving some retention mileage to Oracle, analysts said.

“The updates to OracleDB will protect Oracle at its flanks by providing a viable alternative to JSON developers in Oracle shops,” Baer said.

The new capabilities added to Database 23C, according to Olofson, will have a positive impact within the Oracle user community, which is expected to create “a strong motivation for developers looking at JSON documents to embrace it.”

However, the analysts pointed out that the new database release is unlikely to have an immediate impact on Oracle rivals such as MongoDB.

“Outside the Oracle community, it seems likely that developers are less concerned with data consistency or relational projection of their data than simply building and iterating on applications quickly, so they will probably stick with MongoDB unless management makes a move,” Olofson said.

“Users outside the Oracle sphere will need more motivation than a cool new capability such as JSON Relational Duality to persuade them to enter the Oracle domain, at least for now,” Olofson added.

Enterprises, according to Ventana Research’s Aslett, will have to weigh the needs of their application requirements to choose between the two databases.

“Document model database specialists, such as MongoDB, have their own approaches for dealing with these challenges, and organizations will need to weigh up which approach is best suited to their application requirements as well as the experience and expertise of their development and database teams,” Aslett said.

Oracle, according to Olofson, might see a more positive impact if Oracle eventually offers capabilities such as JSON Relational Duality in its MySQL HeatWave offering.

“Initially, the impact is within the Oracle user community, creating a strong motivation for developers looking at JSON documents to embrace it,” Olofson said.

Key updates in Oracle Database 23C

Oracle Database 23C’s Developer Edition also comes with several new key updates that include JavaScript stored procedures, operational property graphs, JSON schema, and Oracle Kafka APIs.

As part of the JavaScript stored procedures feature, developers will be able to execute code closer to data by writing JavaScript stored procedures or loading existing JavaScript libraries into Oracle Database, the company said.

“Support for JavaScript code improves developer productivity by allowing reuse of existing business logic straight inside the data tier and reuse of JavaScript developer skills. JavaScript code invocation can be intermixed with SQL and PL/SQL, providing polyglot programming language support,” it added.

The addition of JSON schema will allow developers to validate JSON document structures via industry-standard JSON schemas.

Oracle Database 23C comes with operational property graphs that will allow developers to build both transactional and analytical property graph applications with OracleDB, Oracle said.

The feature uses the new SQL standard property graph queries support, including running graph analytics on top of both relational and JSON data, the company added.

Adding property graph support to OracleDB, according to Olofson, increases the range of applications that graph databases can support.

Graph databases have been slow to take off, although we saw significantly increased interest in 2022,” Olofson said.

Another addition to the new version of the database was Oracle Kafka APIs that allow Kafka-based applications to run against Oracle Database Transactional Event Queues with minimal code changes, the company said.

“This enables much more robust microservices built using transactional events that perform event operations and database changes in a single atomic transaction,” it added.

Other additions include SQL domains and annotations. “Database metadata can now be stored directly alongside the data with the new annotation mechanism inside the Oracle Database,” Oracle said, adding that Developers can annotate common data model attributes for tables, columns, views, and indexes.

The free developer edition of the database can be downloaded as a Docker image, VirtualBox VM, or Linux RPM installation file, without requiring a user account or login. A Windows version is expected to follow suit shortly.

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