Oracle RDBMS Technology is Old. It Must Be Obsolete! Disk Drives Forever!

I ran across an interesting quote on that challenged my appreciation of relational database technology—and most particularly Oracle. The article states:

Relational databases started to get to be a big deal in the 1970’s, and they’re still a big deal today, which is a little peculiar, because they’re a 1960’s technology.

Forget the “started to get to be” bit for a moment. Uh, yes, RDBMS technology became important in the 70s (ISI, PRTV and Honeywell MRDS). However, since E.F. Codd didn’t write the defining paper until 1970 it is a stretch to call it “1960’s technology.” Oh well, that article was written in 1999 after all.

What a Great Idea: I Want to Force Some New, “Cool” Technology into My IT Shop
The bit in the quote that got me thinking was how astonished the author was that 1960’s—well, 1970’s actually—technology was “still a big deal” way back in 1999. You see, I think one thing that actually hurts IT shops is the nearly absurd rate of new technology injection. It seems to me that the datacenters with the highest level of success are those that take new technology as slowly as possible. Am I talking about newer versions of, say, the Oracle database server? No, absolutely not. Adopting a newer revision of Oracle is not radical. Those of us who revere the code rest soundly at night knowing that deep down in kernel are bits and pieces that haven’t really changed much in the last 20+ years—perhaps even 30 years given the KCB role in multi-block read consistency (if in fact MBRC was there in the first version of Oracle).

Why is there a mindset in IT that all old technology must go? Folks, we still use little round, brown spinning things (hard drives). Now there’s a bit of information technology that has been around longer than relational databases and ripe for a fond farewell. DBAs are asking for “disk space” from their storage administrators and that is exactly what they are getting. Forget for a moment that roughly 30 drives worth of large, sequential read throughput can saturate the bandwidth of most high-end FC SAN array controllers. Yes, there are exceptions, but I’m trying to make a point. The point is, here we are 27 years after the introduction of the ST506 5.25” and we are not getting full utilization of our drives—at least not when they are provisioned the way most space is provisioned these days. That is, you ask for 2TB of “space” for your Oracle database and you get it—allocated from something like 6 disks in the same enclosure as dozens of other disks. You are getting space, not bandwidth.


What’s This Have to Do with Oracle?
Someone should ask the author of that article if old technology deserves the rubbish heap simply because it is old. Ask him if he has tires on his car (powered with an internal-combustion engine no less). Yep, pneumatic tires for cars date back to P. Strauss circa 1911. No, really, what does this have to do with Oracle? You see, it is software from companies like Oracle—with their “old” RDBMS front and center—that will first help us tackle this problem we have with untapped hard-drive bandwidth and eventually move us along to whatever replaces those little, round brown spinning things in the future. Yes I am hinting, but I’m not saying anything more.

That’s right, that old crusty Oracle RDBMS technology—created to efficiently manage data stored on hard drives—will outlive hard drives and, quite likely, whatever replaces hard drives. That isn’t so hard to accept. After all, P. Strauss’ pneumatic tire will certainly be getting us to and fro long after we move beyond the internal combustion engine.

Dry, Techno-Geek Humor
The article also contained some humor. The following definition was given for what an RDBMS is:

A relational database is a bunch of rectangular tables. Each row of a table is a record about one person or thing; the record contains several pieces of information called fields.

Couldn’t a table be square? Somebody please tell that guy that tables have columns (attributes). Files, being hierarchical, have fields.

11 Responses to “Oracle RDBMS Technology is Old. It Must Be Obsolete! Disk Drives Forever!”

  1. 1 Jared May 18, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    It’s kind of funny in retrospect.

    That article is 17 years old now. Oracle was still a fairly young company at that time. I was not yet a user of Oracle, that wouldn’t happen until 1994.

    So now the shoe is on the other foot. Perl is now a legacy language.
    When I started using Perl ~1993, it was version 4. It is now version 5.8.x, though don’t let the version numbers fool you. There have been many revisions in that time.

    And yet, there are still shops that won’t allow Perl.
    1980’s technology, and there are still shops that won’t adopt it.

    Go figure.

  2. 2 Mark J. Bobak May 18, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Hey Kevin,

    Speaking of the next big thing after “little, brown, spinning disks”, check this out:

  3. 3 kevinclosson May 18, 2007 at 8:44 pm


    My bad…the article was written in 1999….I had a typo…fixed now…

  4. 4 Hemant K Chitale May 19, 2007 at 5:12 am

    I am 40 years old. That article, even if written in 1999, seems to have been written by someone who was 15 years old at the time. He sure is very dismissive of what some of us have been doing for a one to three decades.
    Statements like “andthey’re still a big deal today, which is a little peculiar” and “Sometimes this is a very silly way to store information. When the information naturally has a tabular structure it’s fine. When it doesn’t, you have to squeeze it into a table, and some of the techniques for doing that are more successful than others.” and “There are a bunch of other SQL commands for creating and discarding tables, for granting and revoking access permissions, for committing and abandoning transactions, and so forth. But these four are the important ones. Congratulations; you are now a SQL programmer.” make me see “ohmigod ! what have I been doing all these decades thinking that I was working with some very complex technology!”. The writer makes an RDBMS seem as easy as, say, putting on your shoes, which you learn to do so early in Primary (Elementary) School.
    Hemant K Chitale

  5. 5 kevinclosson May 19, 2007 at 5:18 am

    Nice, Hemant…thanks for reading. See you on oracle-l…

  6. 6 DJ May 19, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    I will cut the guy some slack. At least, he pointed out bind variable at the end of the article. That’s in 1999, and a lot of people are still NOT using bind variable 8 years later. He is not completely clueless.

  7. 7 Gary May 19, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    “Why is there a mindset in IT that all old technology must go? ”
    I think sometimes we can be surprised that old technology is still here. Yes, cars still have internal combustion engines, but then cars aren’t much bigger or faster than they were fifty years ago (and not orders of magnitude higher than they were a hundred years ago).
    Volumes of data have increased by orders of magnitude though. So it can be surprising that relational databases still work, but it is a testament to the strength of the underlying concepts that it does.

  8. 8 Jared May 22, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Kind of jumps the topic, but I just can’t let it go.

    Re the comment:
    “but then cars aren’t much bigger or faster than they were fifty years ago (and not orders of magnitude higher than they were a hundred years ago).”

    Definitely not the words of a car nut. Cars now are not only faster, they are much faster than they were 50 years ago; they are also much more reliable, and get better mileage.

    $30,000 US will buy enough car to beat production car made in the 1950’s. There are numerous examples.

  9. 9 Noons June 4, 2007 at 1:04 am


    “Each line in the table is a record, or sometimes a row or tuple.”



    (back-off slowly, maintain eye contact…)

  1. 1 RAC o non RAC « Oracle and other Trackback on May 23, 2007 at 2:46 pm
  2. 2 Monthly Blogroll Report (May 2007) « Coskans Approach to Oracle Trackback on May 30, 2007 at 12:03 pm

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