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Oracle's Exadata may pose threat to high-end storage arrays

No one's quite sure if Oracle's Exadata systems are storage arrays or data warehouses, but one analyst warned makers of high-end storage systems to "watch their backs."

Oracle Corp.'s systems partnership with Hewlett-Packard has storage industry insiders wondering how much the new products will affect the storage landscape.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison used his Oracle OpenWorld conference keynote Wednesday to launch the HP Exadata Storage Server and HP Oracle Database Machine.

The storage server is based on HP ProLiant hardware and contains 12 disk drives and a dual Intel quad-core processor. The drives can be SAS or SATA, in either 100 GB or 300 GB configurations. Each node can deliver up to 1 GBps of throughput with linear performance scaling as the cluster expands, Ellison said.

Exadata Storage Servers can be packaged into the Oracle Database Machine, a preconfigured cluster with eight database servers, four Voltaire InfiniBand switches, and 64 quad-core processors, Oracle Enterprise Linux and Oracle RAC software, and a 14-node storage server cluster with 168 disk drives. All of this will be available, according to Ellison, for a system price of $650,000, plus a perpetual (i.e., one-time) software license fee of $1,680,000.

Ellison claimed the products will overcome performance bottlenecks for growing database repositories. The new system "allows us to put intelligence right next to every disk drive in the storage system," he said. "In fact, the storage system itself runs the Oracle database's fast parallel query software."

Storage vendors unconcerned

Storage vendors, including EMC, NetApp and HP, claim that Oracle's new additions compete more closely with data warehouses from Netezza and Teradata than to traditional storage arrays. "The products are not apples to apples," said Ritu Jyoti, EMC's senior director of technical alliances. "This is servers and JBOD, meant to target data warehousing products like Netezza, and [EMC's] Symmetrix is a general-purpose disk array."

Jyoti also pointed out that EMC and Oracle have had a joint data warehouse product out for more than a year. EMC also has an OEM partnership with Netezza.

If [Oracle] can deliver on their promises, all the major storage vendors should be watching their backs.
Andrew Reichman
analystForrester Research

Some observers, including several HP representatives, drew a distinction between the query operations cited by Ellison and the other functions that storage arrays provide in database environments, such as OLTP. But Ellison mentioned that Exadata is "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.

Forrester Research analyst Andrew Reichman said the Oracle/HP systems will compete with high-end storage systems, but not midrange arrays. "Midrange customers can't afford to have specialized appliances for every workload," he said. "They need a general-purpose storage system."

For high-end environments, Reichman, in a blog post, called Oracle's announcement a "booming shot across the bow of the storage vendor establishment." He added, "Time will tell if Oracle can execute on this ambitious offering, but if they can deliver on their promises, all the major storage vendors should be watching their backs."

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However, not all storage experts buy the idea that the product will compete directly with any storage array. "This is specialized storage, but it goes beyond storage," said analyst John Webster of Illuminata. "This is tuning the entire system from the application on down, specifically for data warehousing projects."

Ellison has disk arrays in crosshairs

Ellison's speech compared Exadata to "conventional disk arrays" in price and performance. He showed slides comparing the Exadata system's performance to the high-end HP XP24000 array, EMC's midrange Clariion and high-end Symmetrix disk arrays, and what he described as a "high-end NetApp filer." He also compared the new systems to those from Netezza and Teradata, but differentiated the price of Exadata against data warehousing rivals by saying Exadata was "closer to a conventional disk array."

Storage vendors are already trying to get closer to applications with integrations like NetApp's SnapManager software and Ellison-backed Pillar Data Systems' application-aware storage. "Why deploy a storage vendor's version of application integration when you can deploy it directly from the application vendor?" Reichman asked. Purpose-built appliances are islands, he said. "But who cares, if it's the right island?"


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