Oracle Database 12c review: Finally, a true cloud database

Pluggable databases bring a new level of efficiency and ease to database consolidation, while a wealth of other new features address performance, availability, and more


Partitioning enhancements

No database release is complete without partitioning enhancements, and Database 12c is not an exception.

Traditionally, indexes are created in all partitions of a partitioned table. Version 12c introduces Partial Indexing, which allows you to create indexes on a partial set of partitions. For example, if you have partitions p1, p2, p3 ... p10 in a table, you could choose to create an index on partitions p1, p2, and p3 only, and not to create indexes on the other partitions. This feature will be useful in time-variant partitioning schemes, typically in which older partitions are mostly only queried and newer partitions are updated heavily.

We can reduce transaction workload by deferring indexes on transaction-intensive partitions and add indexes only when the partitions become less transaction-intensive. Also, the user can build new indexes in multiple steps to reduce locking and resource consumption issues associated with a traditional index rebuild. Of course, you probably would have guessed, partition pruning is a key requirement for the Optimiser to choose partial indexes, and partial indexes are not supported for unique indexes.

Global indexes cause problems for partition-level operations. For example, if a partition is dropped, then a global index on that table must be updated. While the drop/truncate partition commands are fast (because they are DDL operations), updates to global index entries are far slower, leading to availability issues during DDL operations. For this reason, Version 12c decouples global index maintenance from DDL command execution. Thus, only global index metadata is updated during partition DDL operation, and actual index maintenance can be deferred for a later time. A new scheduled job lets you clear stale global index entries at, say, 2 a.m., improving the viability of global indexes on critical tables.

Also in Database 12c, reference partitioning now truncates dependent partitions. With a reference partitioning scheme, tables in both ends of a referential constraint are partitioned along the same partitioning boundaries. From 12c onwards, truncating or dropping a parent table partition will cascade to child table partitions.

Backup and recovery

Traditionally, restoring a single table is a cumbersome process involving a tablespace restore, exporting the restored table from the restored tablespace, and then importing to the production database. The new restore table command in Recovery Manager (RMAN) simplifies this task.

Re-instantiation of a primary database to a standby site or Data Guard site is a huge problem for VLDB (Very Large Database) sites, especially if the database is separated by thousands of miles. Prior to Database 12c, RMAN did not support native compression during active duplication and so, generally, DBAs resorted to another method of restoring from backup, such as copying files over the network through a compressed pipe, or even shipping a tape. In Database 12c, RMAN supports datafile copies over the network with compression. This feature will ease database cloning efforts tremendously. Also, the Active Duplicate command supports network compression during the data transfer, enabling faster clones directly from the production database.

Executing SQL statements from the RMAN command line is not only unwieldy, but the syntax is not exactly user-friendly. Version 12c enhances the RMAN command line so that you can execute SQL statements natively in RMAN without needing the additional SQL clause.

You can also perform cross-platform backups and restores in Database 12c without needing to explicitly convert endianness. If only Oracle could also supply a method to convert endianness of archive log files, because it would greatly simplify migrations between platforms with different endianness. Without the ability to convert the endianness of archive log files, we must resort to replication products, such as Golden Gate, to reduce the database downtime during platform migration.  

Miscellaneous goodness

In addition to the major improvements outlined above, Database 12c introduces many relatively minor enhancements that will be important to DBAs. Here are a few of the most noteworthy.

Materialised View Refresh. Non-atomic refreshes of a materialised view can affect the performance of user queries due to the need to maintain read consistency. Delete statements are used for non-atomic refreshes, so if another SQL query accesses the materialised view concurrently, then the query will suffer from performance issues because the query must apply enormous amount of undo records to reconstruct read consistent blocks. Version 12c introduces new optimisation, so instead of deleting from original table, a new identical table is populated with refreshed data. At the completion of refresh, tables are swapped, thus completing the out-of-place refresh. Users can query the original table without incurring any additional overhead. This strategy provides operational convenience to refresh materialised view with minimal impact.

IPv6 support.Many organisations are gearing up to certify IPv6 support as IPv4 address space becomes exhausted. Database 12c supports IPv6 for public network addresses. It does not support IPv6 in private network addresses, but this is probably a non-issue.

Parallel upgrade. This is a feature I have been looking for over many years. In highly available environments, keeping the database down for a database upgrade, even for a few hours, is cost-prohibitive. Rolling upgrades are not always possible for major database software upgrades, and it is always a risky adventure to tune Database Upgrade itself. Version 12c uses parallelism to improve the database upgrade to reduce upgrade-related downtime.

Password files in ASM. Another important Database 12c feature is the ability to store password files in ASM (Automatic Storage Management). In RAC, changing passwords for privileged users is a cumbersome task. Even with the use of NFS or another shared file system for the password file, grants must be executed in all instances. In Database 12c, password files are stored in ASM -- and grants need to be executed in just one instance.

The wealth of new features in Oracle Database 12c gives Oracle shops many reasons to consider upgrading. If you manage a cloud database, or wish to improve resource utilisation by consolidating multiple databases on shared hardware, you should consider upgrading sooner rather than later. The new pluggable databases feature is extremely useful for co-locating multiple applications in a single database instance.

If you frequently clone databases over a WAN, then you should consider upgrading to to take advantage of RMAN's native compression when transferring the files. If your employer mandates IPv6 protocol support, then you should look at upgrading. Further, sites that make use of numerous materialised views can benefit from the new refresh methods available in the new version.

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