Oracle, Sun Team Up on Exadata 2 Servers

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Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) has unveiled the next generation of its Exadata servers for data warehousing, touting a new hardware supplier, Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), in place of HP (NYSE: HPQ), the supplier of the first generation of servers.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made no mention of the interminable regulatory process that has stretched on for five months and hung up Oracle’s plans to acquire Sun. Ellison also said nothing about his former Exadata hardware partner HP. HP had no comment on being jilted by Oracle.

The focus was on what the new Exadata servers could do, and if they are as fast as Ellison is boasting, they will do a lot. The first generation of Exadata servers handled data warehousing and did it very fast. Ellison cited one customer that said queries dropped from 24 hours to 30 minutes.

“Version one wasn’t a bad effort,” he said during a presentation at Oracle headquarters and broadcast on the Internet. “It was the fastest database machine in the world. It was designed for what you have to do for data warehousing: sequential reads. It read vast amounts of data and returned answers very quickly.”

Version two will do warehousing queries twice as fast, but now it also runs online transaction processing (OLTP).

The compute servers are Sun’s Sunfire x4170 rack mounted servers, dual Xeon 5500-based 1U servers with 72GB of memory each and up to 12TB of storage. With the new Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Nehalem processors, the Exadata 2 uses DDR3 memory, which Oracle claims is 200 percent faster than the FBDIMM used in Exadata 1 systems. Disk performance is 50 percent faster than the prior version thanks to 600GB serial-attached SCSI (SAS) disks.

Lots of Flash Cache

The servers also come with a large flash cache, but Ellison stressed they were not solid state drives (SSD), just a memory hierarchy made of DRAM and flash. A fully populated cabinet can hold up to 4TB of flash cache.

There is also compression used throughout the system, from lighter, 10x compression in the query cache to heavy duty, 50x compression in the archival system. Up to 15 terabytes of database information can be compressed and stored in flash memory alone.

A cabinet can hold up to eight compute servers, for 64 cores of compute power and 400GB of DRAM. The cabinet can also hold 14 storage servers for a total of 336TB of raw data. It uses InfiniBand switching as well providing what Ellison said is 880 gigabits of throughput per second.

On the software side, the hardware comes with FlashFire technology from Sun for high speed flash scalability, Oracle Database 11g Release 2 and Oracle Exadata Storage Server Software Release 11.2.

The Exadata systems come in four configurations in the cabinet: the single rack basic system is one database server and one storage server and starts at $110,000. It scales up to a full rack, eight compute servers and 14 storage servers, for $1.15 million.

Ellison also stressed the fault tolerant design of the computer. “If compute server fails, it keeps running. If a network component fails, it keeps running. Everything is redundant. We have plenty of extra capacity. If you need more capacity, just plug in another storage server or another compute server or plug in another InfiniBand switch,” he said.

Sub-Millisecond Response Times

John Fowler, executive vice president of systems at Sun, spoke briefly after Ellison. “One million random reads… I have a technical term for something like that: ridiculous. We’ve never had a machine with that kind of performance,” he said.

In addition to all the performance gains, which Fowler said would produce sub-millisecond response times, the servers are also 14 percent more power efficient than the previous generation.

Also discussed by both Fowler and Ellison was the integration of various hardware and software pieces from both companies. Ellison said it’s a total turnkey solution: If you receive it in the morning, you can have it fully operational by the afternoon.

This was the most appealing part of the Exadata 2 package to Jean Bozman, research vice president at IDC.

“The most impressive part was how they put it all together,” she said. “Customers don’t want to have to put it together. Here you have Oracle and Sun being system integrators to pull all these parts together and get the results as a solution.”

Overall, the integration of the systems is more impressive than the sum of its parts, she added. “Where they get a tremendous advantage is in the special things they did. It isn’t one technology, it’s a combination of four or five technologies and putting all those together giving them a good result,” said Bozman.

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