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9/21/2011
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Oracle Introduces Baby Exadata

Oracle Database Appliance gives midsize firms and departments a $50,000 platform for scaling up transactional or analytic workloads.

Oracle says its Exadata Database Machine is selling at a steady clip, but it's not every company that needs even a quarter rack--the smallest configuration you buy--of that product's capacity.

The Oracle Database Appliance, a new product launched Wednesday, is said to deliver the same benefits of Oracle's so-called "engineered systems," combining software and hardware in a scaled-down version.

"This is going to bring the benefits you've heard about with Exadata to entry-level systems, departmental systems, and to what we think of as the SMB market," said Oracle president Mark Hurd during a webcast to introduce the product. The short list of benefits Hurd cited included simplicity, scalability, high availability, rapid deployment, and single-vendor support.

[Want more on Oracle Exadata? Read How Oracle Helps Polk Decode Car Buying Secrets.]

True to the Exadata formula, the Oracle Database Appliance is a complete package of software, servers, storage, and networking and is aimed at both transactional (OLTP) and analytic (OLAP) workloads. While the concept is the same, the Oracle Database Appliance is much simpler than Exadata in terms of caching and storage--technicalities the target market likely won't notice.

A "pay-as-you-grow" software licensing approach lets you turn on anywhere from two to 24 processor cores of database capacity. It's a range that hits the highest number of database buyers where Oracle competes head-on with Microsoft SQL Server.

At the heart of the $50,000 hardware package is a two-node Sun Fire server cluster running on Linux and powered by two six-core Intel Xeon processors with 96 gigabytes of memory each. Storage is provided by 20 600-gigabyte hard drives providing a total of 12 terabytes of raw capacity, but triple mirroring brings the user-addressable capacity down to 4 TB. The appliance relies on an internal gigabit Ethernet network with a 10-Gb Ethernet external connection. The complete package is said to be redundant and fault tolerant at every level, from servers and storage down to networking and cooling.

The real story behind this appliance is the software licensing model, which will bring the total cost to anywhere from $100,000 to upwards of $300,000, depending on how many database licenses and options you need.

The appliance comes preinstalled with Linux and Appliance Manager software. Customers then license Oracle Database, Enterprise Edition, Oracle Real Applications Clusters (RAC), Oracle RAC One Node, and other desired database options. Existing customers can transfer existing licenses over to the Oracle Database Appliance. You scale up two cores per server at a time, so you move from two to 12 cores per node (for a total of 24 cores).

Appealing to the target market of IT-constrained midsize businesses and departments, Oracle executives spent a lot of time talking about the appliance's ease of deployment and ongoing maintenance. Deployment was described as a simple process of plugging the unit into a power source and the network and then running a wizard-driven install routine to get a "fully configured, fault-tolerant database up and running and ready to run your workload in a couple hours," said Andy Mendelsohn, Oracle's senior VP.

To ease ongoing maintenance, the appliance ships with all Oracle Database self-management features preconfigured and turned on, including automatic storage management, automatic memory management, and automatic backup-to-disk.

Whether these self-management features alone can keep the appliance humming at peak performance is an open question. Oracle shops with experienced database administrators might be dubious, as they're used to ongoing database maintenance work.

Oracle extolled the virtues of its new appliance as a consolidation option for businesses using Microsoft SQL Server. In the light of that comparison, Oracle stressed the simplicity of the packaged hardware and software and the prospect of working with a single vendor. But Oracle will have to prove that the appliance offers lower software licensing costs and easier administration than Microsoft's database.

There's actually quite a gap between the new appliance and Exadata. The latter offers 60 cores and 72 terabytes of storage in a quarter-rack configuration that sells for $330,000, not including software licenses. It's surprising, then, that Oracle Database Appliances cannot be combined beyond a single box.

"Customers need to look at the capacities of the appliance and their workloads," Mendelsohn said. "If you're going to get anywhere close to the limits, you might as well just start with Exadata."

At the 2011 InformationWeek 500 Virtual Conference, C-level executives from leading global companies will gather to discuss how their organizations are turbo-charging business execution and growth. This virtual event happens Oct. 6. Find out more.

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