Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oracle Exadata and Oracle Database Machine: Brute-Force Acceleration

You can read about the Exadata and Database Machine news in several places, including:

The immediate market buzz will almost certainly be focused on the roles of Exadata and the Database Machine for high-end data warehouse scenarios, and the technologies do indeed have rather stark implications for incumbent and aspiring data warehouse specialists such as Teradata and Netezza, along with the storage vendors that have been most successful in data warehouse domains, such as EMC. Larry Ellison greatly enjoyed sharing price/performance data during his keynote session today, for example, data that will probably result in some major back-to-the-drawing-board initiatives throughout the data warehousing market landscape.

The stakes are actually much broader than the data warehousing market, however, as Oracle's moves today represent a couple interesting attempts to exploit brute-force acceleration opportunities.

First, by enhancing and modularizing Oracle Database (in 11g 11.1.0.7) so that some aspects of query processing can be handled in the storage tier rather than the database tier, Oracle has fundamentally changed data management price/performance equations. The Exadata storage model returns query results rather than data blocks, leveraging multicore Intel processors to deliver very smart storage subsystems. By combining the Exadata Storage model with Oracle Database clusters and InfiniBand networking in the HP Oracle Database Machine, Oracle is exploiting multi-level grid technology to radically accelerate DBMS performance, producing very disruptive price/performance attributes.

Oracle's partnership with HP is another example of brute-force acceleration. From a software point of view, there actually isn't a lot of Oracle news today; the HP Oracle Database Machine is, in most respects, simply a very high-end packaging of capabilities that were already possible with Oracle's software (the storage tier-level query processing is new, however). Oracle RAC clusters and Oracle ASM (for automatic storage management) are mature, powerful, and widely-deployed technologies, for example, but the mainstream market may not have fully appreciated their implications until Oracle and HP partnered to create the HP Oracle Database Machine. This means, among other things, that existing Oracle Database applications can move to the new model with no modifications.

Perhaps EMC and other vendors participating in the until-today business-as-usual data warehousing market would have eventually gotten around to delivering a similar model, but perhaps not -- i.e., it was probably up to Oracle to push for the architectural and business model acceleration, by partnering with HP over the last three years to create the products introduced today.

So, is Oracle truly a hardware vendor now? Not really; HP has an exclusive partnership with Oracle (the duration of the exclusivity period wasn't announced today), and, while Oracle's sales force is responsible for selling the joint HP Oracle storage and database machine products, HP provides the boxes and the hardware support.

I think it's safe to assume other traditional Oracle hardware partners will eventually also participate in the Exadata and Database Machine markets, but the timing is unclear. One thing that is clear, in any case: Oracle, with its Exadata and Database Machine offerings, just significantly accelerated its overall strategic agenda, and the moves will have ramifications that go far beyond the high-end data warehousing market.

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