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The term RDBMS, or Relational Database Management System can be used in many way

s and, more often than not, simply refers to a commercial database management pr
oduct. However, the true meaning of the term RDBMS refers to the way the product
operates internally to store and retrieve data. There are many commercial and o
pen source database management systems available today. While they all attempt t
o interface with the user in a manner that is generally compliant with internati
onal standards, they all operate differently internally. We will explore the cha
racteristics that make the Oracle RDBMS unique and, in doing so, understand how
it works.
Distinguishing between an instance and a database
To define the Oracle database architecture, we must first define two terms and m
ake a distinction between them. An instance is the set of background processes a
nd memory structures that enable the Oracle kernel to operate. A database is the
set of files that stores the data contained in the RDBMS. These two entities ac
count for the three basic resources available to computers, namely the CPU, RAM,
and disk. The instance represents the usage of the CPU and RAM, while the datab
ase represents the usage of the disk. These definitions are architecturally orie
nted, and the distinction between the two isn't always fully recognized. In fact
, the two are often used interchangeably. In most database configurations, it is
reasonable to do so since, on a single server, the instance and database operat
e together. However, it's important to draw a distinction at this point, for thr
ee reasons. First, the terms themselves are used differently with other RDBMS pr
oducts, such as Microsoft SQL Server. Secondly, when investigating the Oracle ar
chitecture, it is simpler to see the relationship between the various architectu
ral components if we divide them accordingly. Lastly, although an instance and a
database generally operate together on a single server, other database configur
ations are possible. In Oracle's Real Application Clusters, or RAC, the instance
and database are both logically and physically separated. We will examine the s
ubject of RAC later in the article.
The following diagram gives us a broad look of the Oracle architecture as a whol
e. We will refer back to portions of it throughout the article:
[OCA Oracle Database 11g: Database Administration I: A Real-World Certification
Guide]
Note that this is a logical diagram that groups similar functions together. We d
isplay this as a reverse tree diagram. The top of the tree is the RDBMS itself.
From there, it branches into the instance and the database, the terms we have ju
st defined. We will look at each branch of this diagram and examine the individu
al components, as well as how they operate and contribute to the inner working o
f the Oracle RDBMS.
Examining the Oracle instance
As we mentioned before, the Oracle instance is composed of the necessary process
es and memory structures required to operate the Oracle kernel. The instance is
the first thing invoked when the database is started.