Craig S. Mullins

Return to Home Page

March 2002


The DBA Corner
by Craig S. Mullins  

Select Database Utilities With Care

Every DBA uses database utilities to manage and control their databases. But there is a lot of confusion in the field as to what, exactly, is a database utility. There are a lot of definitions floating around out there. DBAs constantly refer to utilities, tools, solutions, and suites.

So, first of all, let’s be clear on what is a utility and what is a “tool” or “solution.” A utility is generally a single purpose program for moving and/or verifying database pages; examples include LOAD, UNLOAD, REORG, CHECK, COPY, and RECOVER. A database tool is a multi-functioned program designed to simplify database monitoring, management, and/or administrative tasks. A solution is a synergistic group of tools and utilities designed to work together to address a customer’s business issue. A suite is a group of tools that are sold together, but are not necessarily integrated to work with each other in any way. Of course, these are just my definitions. But there are useful definitions that make it easier to discuss DBA products and programs.

Why is this important? Well, let’s examine an issue going on right now in the mainframe DB2 world. In the current release of DB2, Version 7, IBM decoupled the core utility functionality from the base DB2 engine and is charging their customers extra if they choose to use IBM’s utilities. In all past releases of DB2, core utility functionality came free with the DB2 base product. This is causing confusion and angst for mainframe DB2 customers.

Why did IBM choose to do this? Well, IBM is using the utilities as an entry into the database tools market. IBM recently began selling tools to manage DB2. It seems like IBM has decided to use its 100% install base for utilities to try to branch out and sell other tools like performance monitors, change managers, and the like.

IBM has competition in the database utility field from companies like BMC Software, CDB Software, and Computer Associates. These companies thrived by selling more functional, faster utilities than IBM – and they did so by selling products that IBM was giving away for free. Now many organizations are faced with a decision – “Do I buy the IBM utilities or third party utilities for DB2?”

This is a more difficult question than it appears to be on the surface. First of all, IBM does not sell individual utilities, but suites of utilities. The third party vendors all sell individual utilities (as well as suites and solutions that include utilities). Additionally, the functionality of the IBM and third party utilities is not 100% exact. Many of the third party offerings still provide more functionality at higher speeds than the IBM offerings. But the IBM utilities are cheaper than the third party utilities.

And many shops bought third party utilities with the comfort level of having the IBM utilities as a back up in case problems were encountered with the third party products. Additionally, most shops bought only a few of the third party utilities. Now those shops may have to purchase both the IBM utility suites and the third party utilities to get the same functionality they had before. So, in essence, IBM is forcing them to buy two utility functions twice.

To be fair to IBM, their DB2 utilities are better than they used to be. IBM is finally putting the appropriate development effort into their utilities. But the third party utilities still provide unique features not available in IBM’s utilities. And in many cases, organizations are relying on those features to run their business.

To be critical of IBM, though, IBM has been claiming that their DB2 utilities are improved to the point that they are all their customers need since Version 3. This was not true for V3, V4, V5, or V6, and it still is not true for V7. If it were true, the third party vendors would not be able to sell any products. Customers have a right to be skeptical about IBM’s speed and functionality claims with regard to DB2 utilities.

An additional complexity that needs to be understood is the way that IBM packages and sells utilities as of DB2 V7. As mentioned before, IBM has also chosen to package the utilities into suites instead of allowing customers to purchase individual utilities. IBM sells two DB2 utility suites:

  •          Operational utilities (including COPY, LOAD, REBUILD, RECOVER, REORG, RUNSTATS, STOSPACE, and UNLOAD)

  •           Recover and diagnostics utilities (including CHECK, COPY, COPYTOCOPY, MERGE, MODIFY, REBUILD, and RECOVER)

As you can see, some utilities are in both suites. And if a customer desires to own one specific IBM utility, he is forced to purchase an entire suite of utilities – some of which he may not want, or need.

So DB2 V7 customers have some decisions they need to make – do I buy IBM utilities or can I go with a third party? And if I go with a third party, can they offer everything that IBM offers? And furthermore, if I need third party functionality and speed, will I have to buy something from IBM that I do not want or need?

It is confusing. But the DBA must be able to understand the options available and make an informed decision about the functionality needed to run his databases and his business. Even if he is constantly shaking his head and asking “Why is IBM making me pay for something that I previously got for free? And why did they let me use some of these utilities to manage portions of my databases if they were just going to come back at a later date and start charging me for it?”

It just doesn’t sound fair, does it?

From Database Trends and Applications, March 2002.

© 2002 Craig S. Mullins,  All rights reserved.