Oracle Exadata in the Real World


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At Oracle’s annual OpenWorld conference last month in San Francisco, Larry Ellison announced the Exalogic “cloud-in-a-box” system aimed at the application market. Whether the industry will embrace Exalogic remains to be seen, but there are users who have logged many hours with Oracle’s other solution-in-a-box – Exadata – and we now have a gauge on just how well it has been received by end users.

“Oracle Exadata relies on the Sun ZFS storage system and is powered by Sun servers and storage,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group. “Exadata version II is optimized, from a hardware perspective, to support Oracle databases, which are part of that solution bundle.”

The first version of Exadata was based on Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) database running on HP (NYSE: HPQ) servers and storage to meet similar target markets. Exadata II was the first major product born of the union between Sun and Oracle. The response to Exadata II seems to be positive.

LinkShare of New York City, for instance, is a provider of full-service online marketing solutions specializing in the areas of search (SEM), lead generation and affiliate marketing. It has been running a couple of Exadata II boxes since their release in March of 2010. LinkShare migrated data from a legacy database infrastructure over a period of a couple of months, tuned the system for performance and went live in July. Users – mostly external customers – were moved over to Exadata gradually to the point where all resided on that box as the home for one of LinkShare’s key analytical applications. Now the company is moving new users onto a second Exadata unit.

“Our core business is software-as-a-service (SaaS) that lets advertisers and publishers negotiate terms, collect data and handle payments,” said Jonathan Levine, COO of LinkShare. “We utilize Exadata to provide analytical support for these core applications.”

LinkShare’s primary data sits on a series of Intel boxes running Oracle 10 on Red Hat Linux. That transactional system is replicated to Exadata, which acts as a large data warehouse and analytics engine. LinkShare wrote an application on top of Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) to give users and customers access to all the reports they need.

Levine explained that it is a challenge to do reporting on the same database that is used for transactional processing. Over the years, the company has tried various solutions to this problem, including use of a completely separate analytical system and then a separate database on clustered servers.

“That worked well enough for a while, but as time neared for a refresh, we realized we were reaching its limits,” said Levine.

As everything was spread amongst Intel boxes running Linux, data was severely fragmented. The overhead from fragmentation was saturating system interconnects. He also complained of a Christmas tree effect – if one server went down, the whole cluster followed.

“We would have wound up with eight racks of Intel servers and we lacked confidence that it would function adequately,” said Levine. “As we were based in Manhattan, we couldn’t find a co-location vendor to run all those racks due to power constraints.”

In comparison, he was attracted to Exadata’s relatively small footprint for both space and power. He also liked the promise of no finger pointing. If anything happened to the box, he only had one number to call.

In terms of benefits, he moved from four racks into a half rack and from four times 13 kV to 6.6. The Flash-based cache in Exadata has also provided an eight-to-ten times performance boost, and, Levine said, that is exactly what customers have been demanding.

His customers want real-time data access around the clock. That makes it impossible to set up downtime windows for data loading or backup in the middle of the night. In the old days, they tried to run data loading and reporting at the same time. Result: both became sluggish.

“Exadata’s data loading is constant regardless of the reporting load,” said Levine. “If you keep customers waiting even a short while, you lose them or lose productivity.”

He believes there is a four second window for getting data to a customer from a query before their mind wanders. He said Exadata has reduced the latency window from about eight seconds down to less than four.

“The system feels interactive now and our customers are very positive,” said Levine. “The rate of uptake of our products has also increased – we have more users using it more actively than before.”

Levine firmly recommends an all-in-one, optimized system versus traditional storage architectures, especially for data uploading tasks.

“Using traditional dumb storage for databases is not tenable given a large volume of queries,” said Levine. “It just can’t compete with storage that is SQL-aware like Exadata.”

Speeding Up Database Queries

Another satisfied Exadata user is RL Polk, a provider of automotive data. These are the guys that provide the market intelligence to the vehicle industry such as who owns every vehicle in the U.S., what they use it for, how it was financed, insured and more. Several million transactions per day run through RL Polk’s databases.

Like LinkShare, RL Polk has a half-rack Exadata II unit purchased at the end of May and installed in July.

“We are using Exadata for every customer-facing data mart we have,” said Doug Miller, director of global Database development and operations for RL Polk.

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