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January 22, 2015

Oracle Rejiggers Exadata for Emerging In-Memory Workloads

Organizations that adopt the latest generation of Oracle’s engineered systems will have more flexible configuration and licensing options available to them than previous generations. That will make it more cost effective to run emerging in-memory workloads, such as operational analytics, the company says.

At a live launch event in Redwood City, California, Oracle chairman and CTO Larry Ellison unveiled the X5 generation of its various all-in-one server platforms. The Exadata Database Machine is headlining this new generation, and backed up by a supporting cast that includes the Big Data Appliance, the Database Appliance, the Virtual Compute Appliance, the FS1 Series Flash Storage System, and the Zero Data Loss Recovery appliance.

All of the new X5 systems have the new fifth-generation Intel Core “Haswell” processors, which boast 18 cores per socket compared to 12-core Intel processors Oracle used in its X4 line. Right off the bat, without any other modifications or enhancements, the servers got a 50 percent performance boost.

Oracle is pairing that performance boost with list prices that are more-or-less static, which results in a significant uptick in the price-performance of the respective machines. Ellison used this fact to boast that Oracle is now a leader not only in building industry-standard servers that offer high performance, but building systems that cost less than the competition too.

The company put together several slides that demonstrate the cost differences against one of its main competitors in the field:

  • Two Socket Systems: A 972-core Virtual Compute Appliance X5 from Oracle costs $562,000 upfront to buy and has $22,000 in annual support costs, while a Cisco UCS M4 Blade system with 972 cores cost $912,000 to buy and had $26,000 in support costs.
  • Big Data: For big data workloads such as running Hadoop and NoSQL, Oracle compared its Big Data Appliance against an Oracle HP DL-380. Oracle’s new X5 machine carried a three-year total cost of ownership (TCO) of $728,000, while a similarly configured HP system cost $920,000.
  • Storage Arraay: Oracle compared its new FS1 Enterprise Flash SAN against the EMC VNX 8000. Oracle’s flashy storage server with 192TB of spinning disk and 15.6TB of Flash carried a cost of $304,000 and cost $36,000 in annual support costs, while a similarly equipped EMC setup cost $934,000 and cost $100,000 per year in support costs.

“You just have the lowest price in the industry,” Ellison said. “[Oracle has] not only the highest performance, but now with the fifth version of our engineered systems, by far the lowest price for the data center core. . . . We’re just trying to make decisions easier.”

When people in the IT business think about Oracle, they think a lot of things, but low cost usually isn’t one of them. So it’s interesting that Oracle plans to go about selling the sixth generation of its engineered systems as the low-cost leader.

There are, of course, some caveats to those comparisons (the devil is always in the details). For starters, you don’t have a lot of choice in what software you can run. And if you’re going to take advantage of some of the new software features that were instrumental in getting Oracle the favorable cost comparisons that it shared with the world yesterday, you have even fewer options.

With that said, there is no doubt that Oracle is giving customers more choice and flexibility–at least for those who have already decided to trade a certain amount of vendor lock-in for the comfort of knowing that everything has been pre-configured and tested, which is a fair tradeoff for some people.

The new “elastic configurations” option in the Exadata appliance, in particular, will be very handy for customers adopting in-memory workloads with their Oracle database.

Oracle unveiled its In-Memory option back in September 2013 and says it’s now seeing adoption scale up. As you would expect, customers adopting an in-memory setup often want more RAM. But less obvious is the fact that they also often want more computational power and less disk.

Tweaking the configuration to align server costs for the new workloads was not possible with Oracle’s previous systems, which offered relatively fixed amounts of CPU, memory, storage, and I/O. But with the elastic configuration, now they can.

Oracle chairman Larry Ellison during yesterday's launch event

Oracle chairman Larry Ellison during yesterday’s launch event

“When you run in-memory databases, you need more memory and more CPU power,” says Tim Shetler, vice president of product management at Oracle. “And so with the X5, now if you’re running in-memory database and you need more memory and compute, you can configure a database machine that has more database servers, more memory, and less storage, for example.”

The typical in-memory customer is using the In-Memory option–which implements a columnar data store next to the standard relational store–to run operational analytics against their live transactional data, Shetler says. “They’re typically used for high-speed analytics, so people want to drill down and look at a lot of data very quickly. Those tend to be CPU hungry as well as memory hungry.”

Equally exciting for cost-cut loving Oracle customers is the new “on-demand” licensing capabilities that will allow users to effectively turn off the processing cores they don’t need, and not have to pay for them. Software licensing has been a particularly touchy subject for Oracle customers over the years, especially in this age of processors with eight, 12, and now 18 cores with Haswell. Unless customers reduce the number of sockets they’re running to compensate for the added cores, they can easily see their software licenses increase dramatically by simply upgrading servers.

“Sometimes you don’t need all the cores. Maybe you need just half of the cores. Then you can license the software running in that virtual machine,” Shetler said. “It’s a good thing for all the products that aren’t needed….[and] it certainly gives our customers a way to reduce or limit their software spend on Exadata.”

The one caveat with the on-demand licensing is that customers must use the Oracle hypervisor, Oracle VM. If you want to use VMware’s ESXserver or Microsoft’s HyperV to your new Exadata system (or other classes of Oracle’s engineered systems that also support this on-demand licensing feature), you won’t be able to turn off cores and avoid paying for the unused cores. You’ll be paying for all 18 cores per socket, whether you need them or not, and those costs can add up.

Oracle is not known to be the most frugal company in the tech market. How many tech CEOs own their own Hawaiian island, after all? But it’s good to see the company working to keep costs down for its customers. It’s doubtful that Oracle will ever be known as the 99-cent store of server makers, but it’s certainly promising to see Oracle taking positive steps to keep customers happy, especially with cloud and white-box options calling.

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