Takeaways From OpenWorld

Monday Oct 10th 2011 by Drew Robb
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Big data, business intelligence, cloud and big boxes were featured prominently at Oracle's big conference this year.

A lot went on this week at Oracle OpenWorld: 45,000 attendees, hundreds of sessions, dozens of press releases and quite a few shiny, new products. What were the big messages, particularly in the server and storage arenas?

1. Oracle Wants to Host Big Data

The Oracle Big Data Appliance is designed to hold an awful lot of data from blogs, social media feeds, sensors and other devices that generate unstructured information that isn't accessible in enterprise data warehouses and business intelligence (BI) applications. It includes an open source distribution of Hadoop, the Oracle NoSQL database, Oracle Data Integrator Application Adapter for Hadoop, Oracle Loader for Hadoop and an open source distribution of R Enterprise, which deals with statistical analysis. Those using Hadoop MapReduce processing can rapidly load analyze unstructured data within the Oracle Database 11g.

"With the explosion of data in the past decade, including more machine-generated data and social data, companies are faced with the challenge of acquiring, organizing and analyzing this data to make better business decisions," said Andrew Mendelsohn, senior vice president, Oracle Server Technologies.

2. Oracle Wants to Analyze Your Stored Data

The Oracle Exalytics Business Intelligence Machine is a hardware and software combo engineered to run analytics faster and broaden the adoption of BI though the introduction of interactive visualization capabilities. It includes an Oracle SunFire server with 1 Terabyte of RAM and 40 cores of Xeon E7-4800 processors, as well as BI software that can analyze Oracle or non-Oracle relational, Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) and unstructured data sources.

"Everything runs faster if you keep it in memory," said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

3. Oracle is Expanding its Storage Horizons

When Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) bought Sun almost two years back, there were some who thought the company was only after certain software properties and it would sell off much of Sun, especially its storage assets. How wrong they were.

John Fowler, executive vice president for systems at Oracle, reminded everyone, for example, about its recent acquisition of Pillar.

"We acquired Pillar to round out our SAN offering," he said.

Clearly, Oracle is viewing its storage heritage from Sun as a strategic asset and is intent on leveraging it.

4. Oracle is Gunning for EMC

Fowler boasted about the multi-tenant capabilities of the Pillar Axiom 600, how it can take all apps and assign different attributes to each.

"You can have Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) and lightweight file serving sitting on Pillar with different qualities of service for each," he said.

He then threw the gauntlet down to EMC,claiming that the Axiom 600 was four-times more scalable than a comparable EMC product and two-times more efficient.

5. Oracle is Gunning for NetApp

Oracle continues to invest in storage, and it seems to have its sights set on tempting some users of NetApp NAS.

"Oracle is changing the dynamics of the NAS market in a single step, enabling storage customers to achieve business results and reduce cost at levels other NAS solutions can't match," said Fowler.

Accordingly, the company is overtly promoting how its Sun ZFS Storage Appliances are superior to comparable products from EMC and NetApp. Ellison noted that the ZFS Storage 7420 Appliance delivered two-times the performance at less than half the cost of NetApp's FAS 3270A, based on the findings of the SPC-1 benchmark.

Oracle's latest range of ZFS products includes enhancements to its Hybrid Storage Pool technology to speed IOPS performance under heavy use. They also harness InfiniBand, which is four-times faster than 10 Gigabit Ethernet, as well as 15,000 RPM SAS-2 drives with 300GB and 600GB capacity.

6. Oracle is Gunning for IBM and HP

While Ellison showed off his new Big Data and Exalytics appliances, he focused on Exadata and Exalogic during his opening keynote.

"Exadata is the biggest seller in Oracle's history and Exalogic sales have begun even faster than those for Exadata," he said. "It's all about moving data, not doing arithmetic in the microprocessor."

Per his reckoning, Oracle Exadata is much faster than IBM's biggest box or HP's Superdome. The SPARC T4-4, he said, had more than 2.4-times better performance per socket than the IBM Power 780 with 33 percent better price/performance. Compared to the HP Superdome 2 with 16 Itanium processors, Oracle delivered 5.7-times more performance per socket and 2.6-times better price/performance.

However, those numbers may be misleading. If you take an Exadata box and a simple IBM P780, the numbers may be correct. But what's to stop IBM hooking up its largest server to a bank of SSDs, such as the Violin Memory 6000 Series flash memory arrays? By doing so, it greatly accelerates IOPS. Oracle has wisely pre-engineered that functionality into one box. Expect IBM to follow suit very soon.

7. Oracle Likes Compression

Ellison also extolled the virtues of compression during his keynote. He said that compression at a ratio of five-to-one up to 15-to-one or more can be achieved with databases running in Exadata and other Oracle systems. And he had some interesting math to go over.

"If you compress the data, magic happens," he said. "When you add compression on top of Exadata, it means that we move 1/10th as much data, 10 times faster, which means we move data 100 times faster than everyone else in this business."

Known as Hybrid Columnar Compression support, it can be used with various Oracle products including Exadata and Sun ZFS Storage.

8. SPARC Processors Are Not Going Away

Yes, there may be Intel processors inside Oracle's latest new Exa-boxes, and yes, the company is pushing these products heavily as the fastest selling items in company history. But that doesn't mean SPARC is going away. In fact, Fowler and other Oracle luminaries laid out a multiyear roadmap for SPARC that makes it very clear the company has big plans for it.

"The SPARC T4 server line delivers the biggest generational performance increase in the history of Oracle's SPARC processors," said Fowler.

This new chip has dynamic threading, which means it works well with both single-threaded and highly concurrent workloads, enabling users to consolidate multiple application tiers onto a single server.

As Fowler pointed out, the new SPARC SuperCluster T4-4 uses SPARC processors as opposed to being all-Intel.

9. Oracle Is gunning for VMware

VMware appears to be yet another target on Oracle's radar. Edward Screven, chief corporate architect at Oracle, claimed that Oracle VM can manage up to 128 virtual CPUs per guest with a TB of memory provided per guest.

"It has four times the scalability of VMware, which costs four times more," said Screven.

10. Dell Searches for Solutions

Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer, gave a keynote during the conference in which he outlined his strategy. He is valiantly trying to get away from the "Dude, you're getting a Dell" days by distancing himself from any focus on PCs, laptops or servers. Yes, the company will continue to sell PCs and yes, it has sold more than 15 million servers in the past decade. But he wants to focus on solutions overall -- an end-to-end vision that encompasses servers, end points, networking and storage.

"Dell is evolving into an end to end solutions provider, but we understand that the client is a big part of the solution," said Dell.

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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