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8/9/2010
07:36 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Oracle's Fowler Says Systems Performance About To Explode

More-powerful engineered systems will give customers dramatically expanded insights, options, and opportunities, says Oracle's systems chief.

Doing justice to his profession—Fowler likes to frame some comments by saying, "Hey, I'm an engineering guy"—and his legacy as one of Sun's foremost technology visionaries and leaders, Fowler says that Oracle's escalating investments in chip design and development isn't just some laboratory exercise but rather an effort focused very precisely on "changing the economics" of how Oracle's customers can make better decisions and become more opportunistic by being able to extract from their data unique and meaningful business insights faster than their competitors.

"Part of the great connection with Oracle is through the connection to the database and other technologies," Fowler said, "because Oracle's tremendously interested in this whole area of data-intensive computing, which is all about helping people change the way they look at their information and allow them to aggregate a lot more and get it quicker. That's more interesting than making chips run faster but that's also probably the very very big frontier in changing the economics of that."

And the only way to deliver that new and improved economics model to customers, Fowler says, is by increasing—dramatically and relentlessly—the power and performance of the systems that turn petabytes of data into new opportunities, new revenue, new customers, and new capabilities.

"The practical reality for many businesses and applications is they have 10 or 50 or 100 more things they would like to do but they haven't been able to actually go tackle those things—their world-view is created by the capabilities of what they have today," Fowler said. "If they couldn't have an integrated data model cause it required 50 terabytes of disk, and they couldn't do it in real time, then they couldn't do it at all, right? So if I give them a system that's got 50 terabytes of data in Flash, then their entire data model can fit in memory and it can go completely real-time—they could completely change the way they think about things.

"On the performance side, there's no end in sight for advances in processors and memory," he said. "Today I ship systems that run hundreds of threads—multisocket systems—and can handle single terabytes of memory. We're working on making Solaris and making systems that work on thousands of threads and can handle hundreds of terabytes of memory.

"And some people say, 'Well why would you do that?' Because, there's a lot of interesting things you can do if you can make the systems bigger—there's no end in sight there. And if you add to that what you're seeing in storage and networking, you're gonna see a constant escalation in computer performance."

In addition, Fowler says, these ultra-honkin' systems of the future will allow IT organizations to automate what are currently gritty and time-consuming chores, thereby liberating those folks to pursue higher-value customer-facing objectives.

"When people today run apps like ERP or Peoplesoft or Siebel, they're stuck with the question of how do they get that up and running—and turns out they have to go out and hire a bunch of mechanics. So we're gonna take a run at that by virtue of the fact that we have not only the hardware but also the applications as well," he said.

"And one of the things I'm excited about in being at Oracle is before, we interacted with the Peoplesoft team and Siebel team—but we interacted as partners, right? And now, the processor-design team is meeting with those people. An ERP system has certain characteristics, so even if there isn't a certain advantage for Peoplesoft, we can understand some of the core ways these applications work and understand what are some of the underlying properties of bandwidth and latency and memory ratios in ways that best suit those types of applications, and then put those insights into our forward designs," Fowler said.

"Those kinds of things are going on today—a new chip or a system take a while, so there are things you won't see for a while, but there are other things like testing and other types of integration that are working today. And it's particularly exciting because that type of deep insight is really going to help with how we think about designing systems going forward because even today storage and servers are changing in front of our eyes."

As with most revolutions, it won't always be pretty and there will be casualties—and for some components of the IT factory, Fowler says, that's a very good thing:

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