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Oracle is one of the largest vendors in the enterprise IT market and the shorthand name of its flagship product, a relational database management system (RDBMS) that's formally called Oracle Database. The database software sits at the center of many corporate IT environments, supporting a mix of transaction processing, business intelligence and analytics applications.
In the ensuing decades after launching the RDBMS technology, Oracle greatly expanded its product portfolio through internal development and numerous acquisitions. It now also sells several other databases, multiple line of business applications, data analytics software, middleware, computer systems, data storage equipment, development tools and other technologies. In addition, Oracle is working to establish itself as a leading cloud computing vendor, after initially being slow to embrace the cloud.
But Oracle Database is still the technology that is most commonly associated with the company; it's also the primary data management platform for Oracle's applications and the data warehouse, BI and analytics systems that Oracle offers to customers.
Oracle Database's architecture
Like other RDBMS software, Oracle Database is built on top of SQL, a standardized programming language that database administrators, data analysts and other IT professionals use to manage databases and query the data stored in them. The Oracle software is tied to PL/SQL, an implementation developed by Oracle that adds a set of proprietary programming extensions to standard SQL -- a common practice among RDBMS vendors. Oracle Database also supports programming in Java, and programs written in PL/SQL or Java can be called from the other language.
Core components of Oracle Database
Also, like other relational database technologies, Oracle Database utilizes a row and column table structure that connects related data elements in different tables to one another; as a result, users don't have to store the same data in multiple tables to meet processing needs. The relational model also provides a set of integrity constraints to maintain data accuracy; those checks are part of a broader adherence to the principles of atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability -- known as the ACID properties -- and are designed to guarantee that database transactions are processed reliably.
Oracle's origins and current versions
Oracle Database 12c also included native support for JSON documents and introduced Oracle Database In-Memory, an in-memory processing engine sold as an optional add-on. In addition, Oracle touted 12c as "designed for the cloud," and later made Release 2 available only in the cloud at first, before opening it up for on-premises use in March 2017. Oracle Database 12c Release 2 added support for sharding large databases into horizontal partitions with their own server and storage resources; it also boosted the performance of Oracle Database In-Memory and expanded the features of Oracle Multitenant.
Oracle Database editions
Oracle Database is available for licensing in four separate editions that provide different levels of functionality and scalability. Oracle Database Enterprise Edition includes all of the software's features and is designed for use by large organizations running high-volume transaction processing, data warehousing, analytics and internet applications. The Standard Edition provides a more limited set of features for workgroup and departmental applications; there are three versions of it, including a Standard Edition 2 that became available with later releases of Oracle Database 12c.
Oracle Database licensing choices
In addition to conventional stand-alone licensing for on-premises implementations, Oracle Database Enterprise Edition can be licensed for deployment on the Exadata Database Machine, a bundled appliance optimized for the database software that is part of Oracle's engineered systems product line.
Key database features and options
Oracle Database includes a long list of standard features, add-on options and management packs in various functional categories, including high availability, scalability, performance, security and analytics. In addition to Oracle Multitenant, Oracle Database In-Memory and RAC, some of the notable extra-cost items available as part of Enterprise Edition include modules for automatic workload management, database lifecycle management, performance tuning, online analytical processing (OLAP), partitioning, data compression, and management of spatial and graph data.
Data stored in Oracle Database can be encrypted to ensure data security, and both the Standard and Enterprise editions support network encryption and strong authentication. Many other security features are available as add-on features in Enterprise Edition. For example, Oracle Key Vault software keeps all the encryption keys in one place to make it easier to decrypt data. With Oracle Advanced Security, data can be encrypted transparently and redacted, making it possible to share data with other users without letting them see confidential information that they aren't supposed to access.
An added hardware focus for Oracle
The Sun acquisition led Oracle directly into the hardware business after some smaller steps preceding the deal; for example, the release of an initial version of the Exadata system in 2008. Oracle offers Unix servers based on Sun's SPARC microprocessor architecture and the Solaris operating system, plus a line of x86-based servers that support Windows, Linux and Solaris. However, Sun's server revenues were declining sharply before the acquisition, and Oracle has since dropped out of the top-five rankings of server vendors with both Gartner and rival market research outfit IDC.