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1/12/2012
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Oracle Strikes At SAP Hana With TimesTen Database

Promising real-time performance for transactions and analytics, Oracle's in-memory database is ready for use in the Exalytics appliance.

Oracle took a bead on SAP's Hana in-memory technology on Thursday, releasing Oracle TimesTen In-Memory Database 11g Release 2. The company will fire the shot when it releases the Oracle Exalytics In-Memory Machine, a move that may be imminent given that Oracle posted pricing for the appliance this week.

The TimesTen upgrade delivers scalability and performance improvements that will enable it to support more concurrent users, higher volumes of requests, and more sessions, according to Oracle. But as one of two databases available to run the Exalytics appliance (the other being an in-memory upgrade of Oracle Essbase), the latest TimesTen release will also move beyond transaction processing (OLTP) to support analytic applications with new "adaptive" caching capabilities.

It's in this new caching role, paired with Exalytics and Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation Suite, that TimesTen will support analytic applications. This will help Oracle respond to the threat posed by SAP's Hana in-memory technology.

[ Want more on Oracle's in-memory appliance? Read Exalytics Boosts In-Memory And Visual BI Capabilities. ]

Working in conjunction with OBIEE, the TimesTen adaptive cache will monitor workloads generated by different dashboards and queries. Where the cache spots response-time bottlenecks in OBIEE-applications (and that will extend to Oracle apps designed to run on OBIEE as middleware), it will move the required data into the memory of the Exalytics appliance. The box combines 1TB of RAM and four Intel Xeon E7-4800 processors, each with 10 processing cores.

One terabyte may not sound like a lot, but because TimesTen also provides columnar compression, it's equivalent to about five terabytes of addressable storage. Because it's in main memory, the entire data store can be scanned within five seconds, according to Oracle. Additional Exalytics boxes can be added to increase total system capacity.

The TimesTen caching capabilities are adaptive in that they continually optimize as query and dashboarding demands change, relying on Exalytics in-memory speeds rather than aggregations, materialized views, and other tricks that require database administration work.

TimesTen is coming out of the transaction-processing arena, where it has been used since the late 1990s as an embedded database for low-latency applications in telecom, financial trading, and online retail. SAP's Hana technology, by contrast, began in the analytics arena, originally used as an accelerator for the SAP Business Warehouse (BW.) More recently, Hana was implemented as an appliance for running analytic applications and replacing the underlying BW database.

The Oracle and SAP in-memory technologies are now on a collision course. Hana is first a threat to Oracle because SAP is promoting it as an in-memory replacement for the database running BW (of which there are some 15,000 instances.) Second, SAP's stated long-term goal is to move its in-memory technology into the OLTP space, offering it as a replacement for the third-party databases currently running its applications (and diminishing the need for separate data warehouse databases in the process.)

SAP has more than 176,000 customers, and roughly 60% of its apps and BW instances are believed to be running on Oracle database, so even a small percentage of defections would hit Oracle hard. Indeed, SAP, which was once a close partner to Oracle, remains the largest provider of third-party apps running on Oracle's database.

But Exalytics is likely to be most appealing to hard-core Oracle shops, as there are many dependencies. Oracle touts Exalytics as an ideal companion to the Oracle Exadata Database Machine and the new Oracle Big Data Appliance released this week. Neither is required, technically, but Exadata in particular is recommended because it can feed data to the TimesTen adaptive cache much faster than conventional database deployments.

"Customers have to license both [Exadata and Exalytics] to benefit from the full performance and scale," wrote Ovum analyst Madan Sheina in a recent white paper on Exalytics. "The question for companies looking to rationalize their infrastructure is: 'why not collapse the in-memory capabilities inside Oracle Exadata?'"

Customers hoping to tap the in-memory analytics capabilities will also have to be licensed users of the Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation Suite, which includes Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE), Essbase, and new data visualization capabilities.

The price sheet released by Oracle this week lists the Exalytics appliance at $135,000, plus $29,700 per year for premier support and other fees. To this, you'd have to add TimesTen license fees of $138,000 ($34,500 for each of the four processors,) plus $30,360 per year ($7,590 per processor) for premier support. Pricing for the new in-memory version of Oracle Essbase was not listed, but that database would presumably only be required for those customers running applications that run on the database, such as Oracle's performance management applications.

If a customer is already using Exadata and OBIEE (six- to seven-figure purchases), the Exalytics add-ons are incremental and competitive. Given Oracle's product dependencies and SAP's pricing secrecy, it's hard to compare Exalytics and Hana pricing.

As part of Oracle's TimesTen release, the company also announced that it has released a version of its Oracle Communications Billing and Revenue Management application that can run on TimesTen as an OLTP database. Oracle will continue to sell TimesTen as an embeddable database for OEM and customer application development, but Oracle is just beginning to tap its own portfolio, according to Marie-Anne Neimat, an Oracle vice president of development and one of the original designers of the TimesTen database.

"This is just the beginning of having TimesTen used by Oracle apps," Neimat told InformationWeek. "We're working with other application groups within Oracle, so there is more to come."

This, too, might set up new competition with SAP, as the apps vendor has announced plans for more than a dozen SAP in-memory applications.

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