Oracle Unveils ‘Cloud in a Box’

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Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, became a full-fledged hardware pitchman at this week’s Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco, where he announced a new integrated Oracle-Sun box known as the Exalogic Elastic Cloud. Growing out of the success of the Oracle Exadata Database Machine – a combo of servers, storage, networking and software tailored to database workloads – this latest Oracle hardware offering very much shows just what the company had in mind when it acquired Sun.

The Exalogic Elastic Cloud is an integrated hardware and software system that runs Java and other applications with extreme performance. It can be utilized as the foundation for a cloud application infrastructure.

The Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) Exalogic Elastic Cloud can house 30, 64-bit x86 multi-core processor-based servers, an InfiniBand-based I/O fabric, a bank of solid state disk (SSD) drives , Oracle WebLogic Server, Java middleware, Exalogic software, virtual machines (VMs) and a choice of Solaris or Linux OSes.

“This Exalogic Elastic Cloud is a hardware and software, engineered to work together – a cloud in a box,” said Ellison. “Our Coherence software is the secret sauce that synchs the memory of all 30 servers to create the illusion of one virtual pool of memory.”

The specs are impressive. Packed into the equivalent of one rack are 3TB of RAM, 1TB of SSD capacity, 40TB of SAN disk, a 4TB read cache and 72TB write cache. All told, 30 servers adds up to 360 cores with Infiniband running within the box itself at 40Gbps to provide a 1.2 microsecond latency rate. 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE ) is used for external networking. The unit is striped, mirrored, fully redundant and fault tolerant with no single point of failure.

Oracle adjusted its software to work more efficiently with Infiniband. For example, the company eliminated buffer copies and is using a larger package size to reduce network overhead. By parallelizing Infiniband, throughput has been increased by 3X compared to 10GbE, as well as a 10X latency reduction.
Another feature is cache coherence for Infiniband and Flash which provides instant failure detection and failover. And in the event of a memory overflow, it overflows to SSDs rather than spinning disks.

“We spent a lot of time optimizing Oracle software and hardware for extreme performance,” said Ellison. “This is by far the fastest machine for running Java applications.”

He laid out some statistics: Internet apps 12X gain in performance, over 1 million HTTP requests per second processes; All Facebook Web traffic supportable on two full racks; and messaging apps able to deal with over 1.8 million messages per second – a 4.5X gain.

Users can begin with as little as a quarter rack and scale up to eight racks. One rack costs $1,075,000, which Ellison said was 4X cheaper than a comparable IBM POWER 795, while having 40% more CPU cores. He believes that the SMP architecture of the POWER 795 (which Sun also uses on some of its high-end boxes) has limitations as to the number of processors and the amount of shared memory, as well as having single points of failure.

“Scale out costs less than scale up,” said Ellison. “The Exalogic Elastic Cloud is the ideal engine for the Exadata Database machine. There are more products like this to come.”

Software Features

The Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud is optimized for integration with Oracle 11g and Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) as well as the Exadata Database Machine, Oracle E-Business Suite, Siebel CRM, PeopleSoft Enterprise, JD Edwards and a host of Oracle industry specific business applications. It is also set up specifically for the virtual world.

Huge Numbers of VMs Can Be Set Up On Demand

Oracle has simplified the patching process by giving customers the exact same configuration, allowing Oracle to guarantee patch compatibility because it is able to focus testing on one box and address any and all possible issues thoroughly before release.

Ellison lamented the current set up: selling software to customers who house it on an almost infinite number of hardware and software configurations. This scenario, he said, made it very difficult for a software provider to spot any incompatibilities prior to the release of a patch.

“With this new rack, you patch all software by downloading one file,” said Ellison. “And if a customer finds a bug, it will be fixed and fed out to everyone immediately. We are betting heavily that Exalogic and Exadata will allow us to do a better job in dev and testing before delivering products to you which have far fewer bugs and get fixed faster.”

Putting the Boot In, Part One –

Larry wouldn’t be Larry without having a go at some vendor or another. This time, faced his wrath. He threw down the gauntlet at the sales force automation vendor and intends to defeat it in the coming years with competitive offerings.

He began his argument by sharing his frustration with the vendors that are rebranding old technology as “Cloud Computing” when it is really only software as a service (SaaS), which he dismissed as a ten-year old technology. Thus he considers as SaaS and not the cloud.

A better example of the true cloud, he said, was Amazon Elastic Computer Cloud (EC2), which is where the term “cloud” originated. You can build any app on this Amazon cloud as it is virtual, based on open standards and works with Linux, Java, Oracle, MYSQL, etc. In addition, you pay as you uses – hence the elastic concept., on the other hand, he said was merely one or two apps running over the Internet. It wasn’t virtualized, was proprietary and was insecure as one database contained the information from multiple customers.

“ has a weak security model, provides no isolation by virtualization , is not fault tolerant and is not elastic,’ said Ellison.

While EC2 can be grown instantly as demand increases through the addition of more VMs, throttles down demand to ensure mission-critical application performance is not affected. And it is priced per number of users, not by what used. Per the Oracle definition of the cloud, therefore, doesn’t cut it.

Putting the Boot in Part Two – Red Hat

The second area to incur the Ellison wrath was Red Hat, though he stated this a little more diplomatically. Exalogic VMs can support two OSes – Solaris and Linux. The user can run one or a mix of both. While Oracle VMs are said to be very efficient – Larry said the CPU overhead was 2-4 percent, making it the most efficient VM on the market – the same couldn’t be said for Red Hat Linux.

For a while now, Oracle has been running Red Hat Compatible Linux – based on Red Hat, but adjusted by Oracle engineers to run better on its systems. This version now has over 5,000 customers.

“Red Hat does not test its releases on Oracle products and is slow to adopt community enhancements,” said Ellison. “The Red Hat kernel is based on a four year old version of Linux. Thus he announced the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel which has been optimized for Oracle apps, Exalogic and Exadata. “The Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel is fast, modern and reliable, and includes the latest community and Oracle updates,” said Ellison.

He said it is 5X faster in Flash cache reads, 2.4x faster in SSD access, 1.8X faster in transaction processed per minute for Online Transactional Processing (OLTP) and 3X faster with Inifiniband.
“We have been having real problems with the Red Hat Linux OS but we have not given up on Red Hat,” said Ellison. “You can run either Linux version on Exalogic.”

Meanwhile, he ended with a teaser – another box to be unveiled next day.

“We have a very, very, very high end OLTP Exadata machine being announced tomorrow,” said Ellison.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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