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The Beauty of TOAD for Oracle

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Linda Leung caught up with TOAD experts Bert Scalzo and Dan Hotka, co-authors of TOAD Handbook, Second Edition, to discuss TOAD, how it's used, and their views on where Oracle as a company is headed.
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Oracle professionals love TOAD, the world's premier third-party Oracle utility for administrative and development tasks. Primarily developed in the 1990s as a utility for developers, TOAD has evolved to become a must-have tool useful for all Oracle professionals, including administrators, managers, and analysts. Available as a freeware or as a commercial product from Quest Software, TOAD now boasts some two million users. TOAD experts Bert Scalzo and Dan Hotka first published TOAD Handbook, the definitive guide for TOAD users, in 2003. The authors updated the guide this year and in September published TOAD Handbook, Second Edition. I caught up with the authors to discuss TOAD, how it's used, and their views on where Oracle as a company is headed.

Linda Leung: How did you first come across TOAD? How did you use it?

Bert Scalzo: I started using TOAD back before the general Internet, when it was on the CompuServe forums. At that time (mid '90s), it was the only good general purpose, graphical user interface into Oracle databases. Oracle experimented back then with several Windows tools (e.g. Procedure Builder and Database Manager), but none of them stood the test of time. So for a long time, TOAD was it. When I got the chance to join the TOAD team and family and to become one of the architects or product designers, I jumped at the chance. I've been with TOAD a long time; there is only one person on the team with two months more time than me.

Dan Hotka: I used TOAD in the mid '90s when it was freeware. I was doing a consulting gig, using SQL*Plus on Oracle7 and someone asked if I had ever seen this? ...TOAD.

LL: Can you describe an occasion when TOAD saved your bacon?

BS: I do a lot of proof of concept (POC) work for customers. For example, can they move from a big symmetric multi processing IBM, HP or Sun box down to Intel-based servers running Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC)? In most cases I can monitor, diagnose and resolve most performance issues or problems within an hour using TOAD. If I had to rely on all my old SQL scripts and using manual commands, it would take substantially longer. With TOAD I look like a superstar who gets things done quickly. And for POC projects that are usually time-constrained, that time is often critical for success.

DH: Nothing really comes to mind, but TOAD regularly saves me tons of time, though. It is so easy to look things up in Oracle, find where particular columns are used, find some code with a partial name, etc. I use TOAD to maintain my tablespaces as well, VERY easily. I use TOAD to check on Oracle parameter settings. I regularly promote TOAD and its ease of use with tuning tasks, the PL/SQL profiler, and even the PL/SQL debugger works better than the competition.

LL: How does TOAD compare to Oracle's own database development tools, such as SQL Developer and other relevant tools in the Oracle 11g database?

BS: I'm not sure that's a fair comparison. SQL Developer has been on the market almost 10 years less than TOAD. Oracle is on version 2.x while Quest is on version 10.x. So of course TOAD is generally more robust. Plus Oracle has to keep SQL Developer and Oracle Enterprise Manager (OEM) from duplicating most capabilities, so you may need both tools. TOAD covers the entire spectrum and you thus need only TOAD.

DH: It's the old adage: you get what you pay for. SQL Developer has added many features, but it still comes up short compared to TOAD. For example, SQL Developer added an SQL trace file viewer, but TOAD has an easy interface using TKProf that we are all used to. Along this line, TOAD has a complete SQL trade file analysis; has had a nice interface to the PL/SQL profiler for a long time (SQL Developer still doesn't do this); and the TOAD team were the first to implement Oracle's PL/SQL debugger into a graphical tool, which still works better than the one that comes with SQL Developer. TOAD has a Stats Pack interface.

These are more of the code/server tuning differences, but they are important differences. TOAD is useful in the tuning and performance problem-solving arena where SQL Developer is not.

The base TOAD still has many more nice little features that it has had forever it seems, and SQL Developer still doesn't have these (such as being able to add your own short cuts, etc).

LL: How many TOAD users are out there, and how is the product mostly used?

BS: Between commercial and freeware there is somewhere around two million users. Basically many people see TOAD as their primary tool of choice for all things Oracle for two reasons. First, this one tool can do almost anything they may need to do. And second, the productivity enhancements help to guarantee that work gets done within reasonable budget — in terms of both time and cost.

LL: TOAD can be used by developers, managers, analysts, and database administrators. How is it possible for a product to be applicable to such a diverse user population?

BS: TOAD has evolved into the best darn Swiss Army knife for all things Oracle over time. It started as more of a developer's tool. But developers often have to perform tasks that both DBAs and/or end users do in the process of developing database applications. So it was a natural slow and steady progression for TOAD to grow into something usable by all people doing Oracle work.

DH: TOAD has adapted to the industry's needs over the years. I feel the input from TOAD comes from the fact Quest Software solicits its TOAD customers for ideas and suggestions, and these ideas and suggestions end up in the tool.

LL: Can TOAD be used to access non-Oracle databases for querying and reporting?

BS: Not the traditional TOAD for Oracle product. But Quest has built a second version of TOAD as a base platform to support other database platforms (e.g. TOAD for SQL Server and TOAD for DB2) as well as to offer a heterogeneous tool (TOAD for Data Analysts). What's nice is that Quest offers TOAD for Oracle users who are current on their maintenance the ability to use TOAD for Data Analysts for free. It's not two separate licenses that can be spread among multiple users, but does permit the one licensed user to use either tool as necessary. TOAD for Data Analysts can even perform cross database platform joins!

LL: TOAD for Oracle version 10 was released in October 2009. What were the major enhancements?

BS: TOAD for Oracle version 10 was probably the most significant release in a decade. The development team upgraded their compiler — which required purchasing and integrating all new third-party components that worked with the new compiler. These new compiler and components made it possible for TOAD for Oracle to support Unicode (i.e. working with data other than simple ASCII characters, often required for multi-byte or other complex languages). Finally, version 10 offered a complete replacement of the old and limited ER Diagrammer in TOAD as Quest replaced it with most of the physical modeling capabilities from their TOAD Data Modeler product. I could go on as in the TOAD tradition each release offers substantial benefits to users. But these are my top three.

LL: Jeff Smith, a member of the Toad product family in his blog notes that TOAD is listed as a requirement for most serious Oracle job postings on Monster, Dice and Twitter. That's pretty amazing. Is this a new development (no pun intended)?

BS: Since TOAD for Oracle was for so long the only or best tool out there, naturally more and more people started using it. I'd say somewhere roughly around the turn of the century that TOAD for Oracle had in fact become the de facto standard tool of choice for Oracle professionals. Thus you will see numerous resumes that list TOAD as a primary skill or tool used — and even many job postings that ask for or require it. With Oracle's SQL Developer now in the mix, I'm sure that it being from Oracle and the price (e.g. free) will challenge this position. But it's hard to turn the Titanic before striking the iceberg.

LL: How do you think Oracle's planned acquisition of Sun affect MySQL?

BS: That's tough. It seems like certain legal entities such as the European Union have a vested interest in that very question. Plus Oracle is getting pretty big in terms of database engines with the traditional Oracle RDBMS, Times Ten, Berkeley DB and the old DEC RDB — plus now Java DB and MySQL. I am sure Oracle has a clear road map or strategy, but this is a question on lots of peoples' minds. Add to that the open source movement to split off a variant of the MySQL database, it will be very interesting to see when all the dust settles.

LL: Final question: How has the Oracle world changed since you first began using the products? From acquiring enterprise software companies including JD Edwards, Siebel Systems, and PeopleSoft, to the now planned purchase of Sun, where do you see Oracle's place in the IT industry, and how does it affect your future direction?

BS: Back in the mid 1980s there were several databases adopting the new SQL language standard and vying for position. Microsoft and PCs were still in their infancy, and client/server mid-range boxes were the new platform of choice. A lot has changed since then. But one thing has remained true: no matter where the technology market is moving, Oracle is either right there or setting the trend. Thus I'm glad I chose Oracle and databases in general for my career, as that choice may well see me to retirement. But if I had to make that same choice today, I don't know that the choice would be so easy. Today's IT professionals have to learn and master so many new technologies and platforms that it amazes me. But at least there is one constant — Oracle Corporation.

DH: I started with Oracle RDBMS with Version 4. Oracle had just introduced forms and reports (fast forms and RPT). RPT turned out to be a nice procedural language for the database. UFI was the forerunner to SQL*Plus and had many of the formatting features we still use today. In those days there was no database administrator. The developer was the administrator and project implementer. Oracle still boasted how it ran across many platforms, being able to move the code from machine to machine without changing it. It was a novel idea at the time, not having applications closely tied to hardware choices! The Oracle hardware platform at the time was the VAX from Digital Equipment Corporation. Oracle used to sell DEC VAX with Oracle bundled on it without the Digital reps being involved. People don't realize — which kind of answers your prior question — that Oracle has been in and out of the hardware business throughout its history.

In the 1980s when Oracle Corp. was a small company in Belmont, Calif., there was the race for the RDBMS. End users needed something flexible so that they could develop their own reports and side-step the IT backlog. Relational databases made data access easy because one didn't need to know or understand the structure of the data to access it. Also, tools sprang up that also accessed this data.

Oracle Corp. moved to Redwood Shores, Calif. in the 1990s during the database and tools wars. This era was a shakedown of the various databases. The decade started with five or six major players and ended with mostly Oracle and IBM DB2, with SQL Server more on the low-end. Windows came out early in this decade making graphical interfaces a common place. TOAD got its start with Oracle7 and Windows 3.1 (I think it was originally coded in Delphi, a language closely related to Windows). TOAD exemplifies the tools war — IT and end users both were looking for ease of administration and ease of code/report development. Many products came and went. TOAD was free and worked well as it made for easy data access and easy code development.

The 2000s have been focused on applications. Larger companies now are focused on maintaining a competitive edge and they cannot wait for IT to develop homegrown applications to meet the ever-changing business world.

Applications are ready to meet the challenge right out of the box, and these applications are tied to the database and sometimes even hardware, so in some ways we have come full circle with Oracle. Oracle continues to be very transportable across hardware platforms and is still the main RDBMS choice today.

Oracle Corp. has adapted easily to the changing needs of both the IT and business worlds as well as the ever-changing computing world. Oracle Corp. always has been a major player in the RDBMS world and Oracle Corp. will continue to be a major player in the ever changing business/IT world with their needs for faster/better/more functional applications and support needs.

Bert Scalzo is a product architect for Quest Software and a member of the TOAD development team. He designed many of the features in the TOAD DBA module. An Oracle Masters, with a BS, MS and PhD in Computer Science, as well as an MBA, Scalzo has worked as an Oracle DBA with versions 4 through 9i.

Dan Hotka is a training specialist who has over 31 years in the computer industry and over 26 years of experience with Oracle products. He is an internationally recognized Oracle expert with Oracle experience dating back to the Oracle V4.0 days. In addition to authoring many popular Oracle books, he is frequently published in Oracle trade journals, and regularly speaks at Oracle conferences and user groups around the world.

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