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9/30/2011
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Oracle SuperCluster: Virtualization Under The Hood

Oracle's Sparc SuperCluster is the first to pair Oracle VM Server with the newest Sparc processor, the T-4.

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Attendees at Oracle Open World 2011 this week in San Francisco will get a deep dive into the company's newest monster computer, the SPARC SuperCluster system, unveiled last week down the road at Oracle's headquarters in Redwood Shores. The SuperCluster, which combines the technology in the Exadata and Exalogic systems, will be the first Oracle system to pair Oracle VM Server with the newest SPARC processor, the T-4. But like the previous two, SuperCluster continues Oracle's strategy of selling enterprises as an end-to-end all-Oracle system.

Oracle VM Server for SPARC, version 2.1, was released in June and allows up to 128 virtual machines to run on one system. It also enables live migration of VMs, Dynamic Resource Management so mission-critical workloads get CPU-priority over less critical ones, and support for more virtual networks per domain.

"Virtualization is critical to cloud computing, private cloud, public cloud, any kind of cloud computing. You take better advantage of your computing resources with a VM," said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison at the SuperCluster launch event.

[ Learn more about the T4. Read: Oracle Seeks Sun Revival With Sparc T4 Servers ]

VM Server will join Oracle Database, the Solaris 11 operating system, and Fusion Middleware in the software stack to run on SuperCluster, which, like Exadata and Exalogic is pushed as a vendor lock-in solution, although Oracle wouldn't put it quite like that. Ellison said Oracle's philosophy is that when you engineer and build the server, storage, networking, VM, and software together, it just runs better and offers higher availability compared to systems using disparate components.

"That's the aspect of it that's most controversial," noted Nathan Brookwood, research fellow and founder of Insight 64, a tech research firm in Silicon Valley, of Oracle's "get it all from us" strategy. "The industry, by and large, has moved to a very horizontal organization and here's Oracle saying 'We're going to do the whole vertical thing.'"

In Oracle's defense, Brookwood continued, "you don't have to buy the whole kit and caboodle." Customers do have the option of pairing their T-4 server cluster with another brand of database software and can use other Oracle technology in a heterogeneous environment. But, he added, if you do buy an integrated all-Oracle system, it does offer some impressive performance levels.

Among the performance boasts SuperCluster makes are these: The T-4 processor--which also comes in a new line of servers separate from SuperCluster--has a five times faster single-thread performance than its predecessor, the T-3. Each machine has 4 sockets that holds a single processor that has 8 cores. Each core can handle 8 threads. All of that adds up to 64 threads per processor or 256 threads per machine. Performance can reach 1.2 million input-output instructions per second (IOPS). It also offers a 10-fold data compression rate in storage.

Oracle took a shot at competitors saying SuperCluster outperforms HP's Superdome 2 systems and IBM's POWER-7 systems; HP and IBM are the number 1 and 2 server sellers, respectively. According to IDC, Oracle is tied with Fujitsu for fourth place with a 7.2% share in the second quarter of 2011, based on revenue.

While Oracle thinks a lot of its SuperCluster and other system offerings, Zack's Equity research thinks it will take three or four quarters before the new products sell well enough to move Oracle's market share numbers up.

In the new, all-digital issue of Network Computing: Microsoft and Citrix are closing the gap with VMware. Before you roll out the latest edition of vSphere, reconsider your virtualization platform. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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