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3/5/2013
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Oracle Appliance Upgrade Goes Beyond Database

Oracle Database Appliance X3-2 update adds higher-capacity hardware, but virtualization unlocks a world of new compute possibilities.

Oracle on Tuesday released the Oracle Database Appliance X3-2, a new version of the vendor's hardware-software combo aimed at midsize companies and departments of larger organizations. But don't think of this as just an upgrade.

Some thought of the first release of the Oracle Database Appliance (ODA) as a "Baby Exadata," but virtualization software built in the new release will let Oracle customers and ISV partners use the appliance as a data center in a box, suitable for running bank branches, hotels, retail stores and other remote operations.

ODA was introduced in 2011 as a fast deployment option for organizations more likely to scale up to the capacity of Oracle's flagship Exadata appliance. The new X3-2 packs 512 gigabytes of RAM and 18 terabytes of disk storage, up from 192 GB of RAM and 12 TB of disk storage in the previous release. The number of compute cores increased to 32, up from 24 previously.

[ What's IBM's version of appliance-based computing? Read IBM Answers Oracle Exadata. ]

As before, ODA has a pay-as-you-grow licensing option that lets you unlock and pay for only the compute cores that you need, but with the new software virtualization option (courtesy of Oracle VM), you can license and "pin" cores to any computing load, not just database capacity. So, for example, you could use two cores for a home-grown application, four cores for database server use, two cores for Web server use and another four cores for application server duty.

"Virtualization lets you carve up a single physical server into multiple virtual servers, and that's important because it gives you flexibility to license for specific requirements," said Oracle's Sohan DeMel, VP, product strategy and business development, in an interview with InformationWeek.

With the previous version of ODA, cores could only be unlocked if they were licensed for Oracle Database. You could, of course, use them for other purposes, but you paid the price regardless.

Now that ODA is more like a small-footprint (4U), rack-mountable, all-purpose compute appliance (think Exadata/Exalogic love child), Oracle figures its appeal will grow among ISVs who can assemble and brand their own appliances.

One partner doing just that is Temenos, which has developed a "Bank-in-a-Box" solution for customers looking for "reduced deployment costs and low maintenance with high performance," said Simon Henman, a Temenos technology manager, in a statement. "The virtualized platform will provide workload isolation between the database and application."

Lights-out and remote-management software built into ODA lets centralized IT shops manage ODAs in the field with "one-button deployment, patching and database provisioning, simplified VM management, and automatic phone-home capabilities," according to Oracle. But with cloud capacity and virtualization options being all the rage, why, one might ask, does a business need to put even a small appliance in any remote location?

"What happens when you lose network connectivity to your central data center? You can't stop doing business, and these are the kinds of problems that companies have to anticipate," DeMel said. Whether it's in banking, retail, lodging or other industries, DeMel said plenty of businesses make it a matter of policy to deploy systems on site.

As a database appliance, the "baby" confusion between ODA and the Exadata Database Machine stems from the fact that the appliance is essentially one compute node from the larger appliance, but the latter also includes three storage servers and storage software for columnar compression, smart scanning and other features only available on Exadata.

There's also a big difference in price. ODA is $60,000 for the hardware, versus $200,000 for a 1/8 rack Exadata. What's more, Exadata also requires storage-management software that costs an additional $180,000. Database and other software license costs are over and above the ODA and Exadata costs cited above.

With an optional 18-TB Storage Expansion Shelf you can bring ODA capacity up to 36 TB, but the compute capacity is fixed. That's another differentiator with Exadata, which is scalable up to a full rack capable of handling hundreds of terabytes and then multiple racks theoretically bringing it into the petabyte league.

The newly released ODA will run Oracle Database 11g or Oracle Database 12c, the latter being the Database update expected to be released within weeks (if not days).

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