Database administrators will find BMC's SQL Explorer 3.0.01 an interesting database tuning tool with noticeable improvements over previous versions.
However, PC Week Labs found it inferior to the competition. It is truly second-class software by today's high standards.
For proactive tuning scanning applications for inefficient SQL we recommend SQL Expert from Lecco Technology. SQL Expert's parser is much faster and can handle even the most complex SQL code.
For reactive tuning monitoring the database and tuning individual statements we recommend either Computer Associates's SQL Station or Quest Software's SQL Xpert. Both products are more robust, with better GUIs.
BMC's SQL Explorer is a three-tier architecture product, with application client and server components working in conjunction with the database server. The client software runs on Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT.
The server component runs on Windows NT and several popular versions of Unix, with the regrettable omission of Linux.
BMC also sells versions for Informix's Dynamic Server database, Sybase's SQL Server, Microsoft's SQL Server, and IBM's DB2 OS/390 and DB2 Universal Database.
We tested the Oracle version using both Windows NT and HP-UX but found that SQL Explorer did not function reliably with Oracle8i. It issued numerous error messages about incompatibilities with 8i's data dictionary.
From the start, we found SQL Explorer's GUI to be its weakest link. The interface style is reminiscent of Windows applications from years past, with unwelcome deviations from today's standards. For example, the database object browser uses a single-level, tree-view control. It showed the major database object classes, such as tables and indexes, but when we double-clicked on tables, a pop-up window appeared to filter selections for display in another window. We much prefer today's standard, multilevel, tree-view interface, such as the one in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers.
Other examples of obsolete technology are apparent in many of SQL Explorer's visual controls: data display grids that lack drill-downs via double-clicking, lack of right-hand mouse options, lack of sorting via column header selection, graphs that lack drill-downs and display objects that do not resize with their window.
Moreover, SQL Explorer's screen designs often vary from current standards.
Many screens look cluttered due to excessive use of buttons and check boxes. The product also deviates from standard button notation, for example using a single "remove object" button instead of the newer button techniques that include angle brackets.
SQL Explorer's stodgy GUI is a major stumbling block that doesn't measure up to the competition and left us frustrated. We hope BMC performs a much-needed overhaul in the next version.
GUI glitches aside, SQL Explorer has several interesting new features.
We especially liked the tool's automatic generation and execution of "what-if trials" tuning scenarios.
Each scenario represents a different way to instruct Oracle to perform the query in an attempt to find the optimal solution, and it is all done with the push of a button. We merely checked the "auto-trial generation" check box, and SQL Explorer proposed several good tuning scenarios using Oracle's optimiser hints. We also liked being able to easily run those trials with excellent user-definable execution options. However, the interface only allowed us to select one hint for each tuning scenario.
Another welcome addition is SQL Explorer's application analysis utility, which scans SQL code for inefficient constructs using a user-customisable rule base. However, the parser was very slow and issued numerous parsing errors on legitimate SQL code. For example, it could not parse "where current of" syntax, and it had problems with long identifier names and record variables.
We liked SQL Explorer's client- and server-based SQL collectors, which automatically monitored the database for inefficient SQL code. Unfortunately, SQL Explorer creates tables to hold the collected information in the connected user's schema, rather than storing that data centrally. This forces managers to take the unnecessary step of granting additional database privileges to developers.
Other helpful new features include a SQL reformatting utility and a good assortment of database monitoring graphs.
However, SQL Explorer has only limited reporting and printing capabilities, and users should not have to install the server component just to do simple SQL tuning.
PC Week Labs
SQL Explorer for Oracle is no match for more modern and capable database tuning tools such as Computer Associates's SQL Station and Quest's SQL Xpert. Although it does have some interesting features, we cannot recommend it over such capable competition.
- automatic generation and flexible execution of "what-if trial" tuning scenarios
- application-level analysis
- reformat SQL utility
- client- and server-based SQL collectors
- outdated and awkward GUI
- did not work well with Oracle8i
- slow and faulty application analysis parser
- inadequate print and reporting capabilities
- "what-if trial" selections limited to a single hint
- Prices: £474 per client and £4,284 per server
- Contact: BMC Software 01276 24622
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