Oracle aims Sun-based Exadata 2 for OLTP at IBM, Hitachi Data Systems

The new Exadata 2 system officially supports up to 1 million random read/write IOPS for online transaction processing, squarely in the wheelhouse of high-end storage vendors.

Oracle Corp. Monday night launched Exadata 2, its first joint product with Sun Microsystems Inc. since Oracle said it would buy Sun.

The product is specifically meant to support online transaction processing (OLTP), putting it squarely into competition with tier 1 storage vendors. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison provided plenty of rhetoric during the Monday launch webcast, calling out specific rivals in the high-end storage and server market, including IBM and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). Meanwhile, previous hardware partner Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. is out of the mix, according to an Oracle FAQ.

Oracle has not yet completed its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun. European Union regulators are scrutinizing the deal, first revealed last April. But following a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal last week quelling speculation that Oracle planned to discontinue or spin-off Sun's hardware products, the two moved forward Monday night with the joint announcement of a new database machine based on Oracle software and Sun hardware .

The Exadata 2 is the successor to the Exadata system launched with HP last year. Ellison said the Exadata 2 is optimized for the random I/O associated with OLTP, as opposed to Exadata 1's strong suit of sequential I/O for data warehousing.

Exadata 2 consists of an eight-server compute grid with 64 Intel Xeon processor 5500 compute cores and 400 GB of DRAM, a Sun-designed InfiniBand switch, and 14 Sun storage servers containing a total of 5 TB Flash and 336 TB hard disk capacity. The previous version was based on HP server hardware and a Voltaire InfiniBand switch. Ellison claimed the new Exadata can reach up to 1,000,000 random read/write IOPS.

Exadata 1 had some intelligence at the storage layer, most notably the ability to process a partial result of a query before feeding data to the compute layer. But Ellison put even greater emphasis on Exadata 2's storage features, including what he called "a highly intelligent memory hierarchy" between DRAM in the compute nodes and Flash modules in the server nodes, which he was careful to point out was "not just a dumb Flash disk."

Ellison touted the Exadata 2 system's OLTP performance and compared it to tier 1 storage systems, including HDS' USP V and IBM's DS8300 disk arrays. This was something of a departure from the launch of Exadata 1, in which data warehousing was emphasized and OLTP capabilities were hinted at but generally avoided.

However, Ellison did boast last September that Exadata 1 was "the only database machine that also speeds up OLTP, as well as data warehousing," adding that 90% of the OLTP workload on Oracle-attached systems was for queries and reports. This led Forrester Research senior analyst Andrew Reichman to call Exadata 1 "a booming shot across the bow of the storage vendor establishment."

After Monday's webcast, Reichman said "they seem ready to take off the gloves and go whole hog" into the storage market. "In fact, I think this is the biggest thing happening in storage right now."

Impact on storage market could be far-reaching

Application-centric storage and direct-attached storage (DAS) are making a comeback in the storage market lately, and Reichman sees them as the way forward for complex applications like Oracle databases.

"This is what has been so difficult about designing storage—the interoperability matrix is huge, and you have to worry about integrating the application, storage and server," he said. "I see that going away in Oracle environments with this."

Still, Reichman held back from pronouncing Exadata 2 a success yet. "There are a lot of things, not all of them technological, that have to fall into place for it to happen," he said.

Sun channel partners wait out deal

In the meantime, one Sun channel partner said he's happy just to see the new Oracle/Sun combination moving forward with new product. "We're just anxiously waiting for the acquisition to close," said Michael Clesceri, a partner at Laurus Technologies, a Sun/StorageTek solutions provider since 2000.

While Sun's servers and the Flash module leaked under the codename "Lightning" to the storage market last year are components of Exadata 2, storage-specific hardware such as disk arrays and tape libraries have yet to be accounted for.

"We're all waiting to hear," Clesceri said. "But StorageTek tape has market share and IP—it's hard for me to believe Oracle wouldn't find that interesting."

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