A software company is leveraging solid-state memory to the max.
That's right -- Oracle, the second largest software company in the world, could turn out to be one of the most flash-intensive companies in the computer industry. The technology appears to be a critical element in the company's plans to maintain its lead in the enterprise database market.
If nothing else, the new database machine Oracle introduced this week at its OpenWorld trade show underlines flash-based memory's standing as one of the best means of accelerating database performance. The Exadata X3 computer is designed to be configured with as much as 2TB of DRAM and as much as 24TB of flash-based cache memory. Add to that 10X database compression, and a single Exadata rack can hold as much as 220TB of data.
That, Oracle co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison told an OpenWorld crowd, is sufficient for "keeping all of your databases in memory... you virtually never use your disk drives." He said disk drives are becoming "passé," good only for storing images and other types of data that are used infrequently. "All of your active data is migrating off old mechanical disk drives to semiconductor memory."
Granted, it will mainly be Oracle's largest customers -- and Oracle itself, which plans to make the Exadata database server a core element of its fast-expanding cloud-computing platform -- that will opt to move their RDBMS servers to this kind of hardware. But clearly, the writing is on the wall: In-memory is where DBMS is headed, a fact that not only Oracle but also SAP, with its HANA database engine, has acknowledged.
Ellison made a point of explaining that this new Exadata computer does not simply swap out hard drives in favor of SSD. Those many terabytes of flash memory are configured as cache memory, situated very close to the Intel Xeon processors and DRAM that form the heart of the machine.
The result is a system that Ellison described as capable of handling as many as 1.5 million SQL-based random-read I/Os per second. (Some 15,000 hard drives would be needed to achieve that same horsepower, he claimed.) The SQL data-scan rate for data warehousing applications works out to 100GB/s, which would require 1,000 disk drives. Bulking up on flash memory also makes the machine capable of a peak rate of 1 million writes per second.
These speeds, Ellison asserted, are enough to run as many as 100 active databases on a single Exadata machine, thus saving the customer money spent on energy, hard drives, rackspace, and more.
Pricing? Details were scant, but Ellison compared a $650,000 Exadata model to a computer that IBM sells for $5.6 million. Moreover, he explicitly encouraged his audience to ask their Oracle salespeople for discounts.
Database analyst Curt Monash views the Exadata announcement as confirming the sense he has had for several years -- that Oracle has come to view flash memory as "the most important hardware technology of the decade, one that could lead to Oracle being 'bumped off' if they don't get it right."
Indeed, Monash notes that an Oracle executive told him in 2009 that in the coming decade or so, the company would be striving to move the "bulk" of its business to database machines such as the Exadata.
Though Oracle bought server maker Sun Microsystems a while back and continues to work closely with Fujitsu in aggressively developing that product line, the software company evidently has decided that it's not general-purpose computers that will run its RDBMS product with maximum performance. Evidently, it views a specialized server, crammed full of ever-less expensive DRAM and flash memory, as the best way to deliver DBMS functionality to its most demanding customers, for use in both analytics and processing transactions.
How well this scenario will play out with less demanding customers is difficult to say. Fortunately, they can partake of the same performance boost provided by gobs of DRAM and flash memory-based data caching by simply cracking open their standard servers and adding the appropriate boards.