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7/8/2010
03:06 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Oracle Server Architect Emphasizes Exadata

The technological urge to merge is evident in Oracle's high-flying Exadata database machine, which is a platform combining hardware and software in a manner totally tuned towards the objective of fast OLTP. I was put in mind of this by Bob Evans' latest column, Global CIO: Larry Ellison's Hardware Boasts Are Nonsense, Says IBM. That got me thinking about my recent chat with John Fowler,

The technological urge to merge is evident in Oracle's high-flying Exadata database machine, which is a platform combining hardware and software in a manner totally tuned towards the objective of fast OLTP. I was put in mind of this by Bob Evans' latest column, Global CIO: Larry Ellison's Hardware Boasts Are Nonsense, Says IBM. That got me thinking about my recent chat with John Fowler, Oracle's executive vp of systems, where he provided some insightful perspective on architectural trends.Fowler knows his platform innards. Prior to his current Oracle gig, he was executive vice president of Sun's systems group and chief technology officer for its software organization. (Oracle completed its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in January.) I spoke with Fowler to gather material for my InformationWeek Analytics State of Server Technology 2010 research report. (Hurry and you can still download the full report for free.)

The coming together of my Fowler interview, conducted back in March, and Bob's column, began when I read the money quote from Bob's piece. Commenting on the importance of these tuned systems, Bob wrote: "There's something. . .significant at play here: the shape of high-end platforms and systems that will play essential roles in enterprise architectures for a long time to come."

That's precisely the topic upon which Fowler shed some light in our chat. His basic point is that the speed advances in storage and network connectivity are feeding back into the design constraints for servers. So, whereas previously it was mostly about increasing performance by upping processor core counts, now designers can capitalize on the availability of fast I/O. That's particularly advantageous when you're constructing database and/or online transaction processing systems, because a lot of what that's about is reading and writing data from the database. (Doh!)

Here's the relevant exerpt.

"The most exciting thing going on in servers today is actually in storage and networks.

On the storage side, you have technologies like flash, which raise the number of I/O operations you can do by multiple orders of magnitude. Then there are really hot interfaces, like 40-GB Infiniband and 10-GB Ethernet, and the coming 100-GB links.

The CPU was a very significant element of the design for many, many years. We're now entering a period where the step functions we can do in fabric and storage are really the interesting things.

That's going to change our designs. I remember a couple of years ago, when we were working on flash [storage], and I turned to one of my processor designers and I said that we've really got to step it up here, because our servers are designed for the wire to be slow and to be talking to mechanical disks.

So multicore CPUs are going to keep going, and virtualization is a build-in feature at this point. The exciting part is networking and storage.

Going from the philosophical to the specific, Fowler noted that Oracle is exploiting the increased speed of flash, as compared to mechanical storage:

"What we did with Exadata is design a set of flash components, which became part of the storage server, that get used by the partitioned database query engine. . . With Exadata, we've a constructed a completely integrated appliance where we put together storage, Infiniband fabric, and servers together with the software. We've designed the storage of Exadata so a portion of the database queries are actually executed on the storage side. In fact, [we've] partitioned some of the database and put it on the storage side. So this is a complete holistic design."

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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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