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Oracle Exalytics: When Late Is Better Than Never

In-memory appliance promises to turbocharge business intelligence and analytic apps, but its biggest appeal will be to IT shops with an all-Oracle commitment.

Doug Henschen

February 27, 2012

4 Min Read

Oracle joined the in-memory analysis movement at long last Monday with the release of the Oracle Exalytics In-Memory Machine, an appliance combination of hardware and software aimed at delivering sub-second response times for data-intensive business intelligence (BI) and performance management applications.

Oracle Exalytics is the second major new appliance introduced by Oracle in as many months, with the first being the Oracle Big Data Appliance. But where the first product arrived early in the movement toward big-data analysis, Oracle Exalytics is a latecomer to the in-memory analysis trend.

Upstarts like Applix (now a part of IBM Cognos), QlikTech, and Spotfire (now a part of Tibco) started answering user calls for faster data analysis and what-if scenario planning more than half a decade ago. More recently, SAP has morphed years of in-memory product development into Hana, an in-memory platform that is evolving to displace the analytical and transactional databases that are Oracle's bread and butter.

Late may, indeed, be better than never for Oracle, as plenty of customers have yet to add in-memory analysis capabilities. Still other customers may wish to consolidate, ditching aging in-memory products and standardizing on Oracle. That move would make good economic sense if customers are already deeply invested in related Oracle products including the Exadata Database Machine, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) middleware, and Oracle BI Applications.

[ Want more on Exalytics vs. SAP Hana? Read Oracle Strikes At SAP Hana With TimesTen Database. ]

At the heart of the Exalytics appliance is Oracle TimesTen In-Memory Database Release 2, introduced last month with upgrades to support "adaptive caching" in conjunction with the Exalytics appliance. This caching capability monitors workloads generated by various OBIEE-powered dashboards, queries, and analytic applications and automatically moves the data that is most in demand into the memory of the Exalytics appliance. The result is 10- to 100-times faster reporting and dashboard performance and up to 79-times faster multidimensional (OLAP) performance compared to Oracle deployments without Exalytics, according to Oracle.

The Exalytics hardware is an Oracle Sun Fire server with 1 terabyte of RAM and four Intel Xeon E7-4800 processors with a total of 40 cores. High-speed (40-Gbps InfiniBand and 10-Gpbs Ethernet) connectivity is designed to work hand-in-hand with Oracle's Exadata appliance, enabling the adaptive caching feature to move high-demand data out of that disk-based appliance and into Exalytics memory.

Exalytics can also cache data from third-party sources, including IBM's DB2, SAP's Business Warehouse (BW), Teradata, and other data warehouse and data-mart platforms, according to Oracle. But it's unclear whether the adaptive caching and high-speed connectivity advantages designed for Exadata will carry over to third-party platforms. It's also unclear whether Exalytics will make sense for customers using anything other than OBIEE.

The advantage of the tight link with OBIEE is that existing customer applications built on that platform will be able to take immediate advantage of Exalytics' speed-of-thought data exploration capabilities. What's more, OBIEE-powered BI applications, such as Oracle Financial Analytics, Oracle Human Resources Analytics, Oracle Sales Analytics, and Oracle Procurement and Spend Analytics, among others, will gain high-performance dashboard and reporting, planning, and forecasting capabilities. As such, Exalytics appears to demand less development work and new software than does SAP's Hana platform in order to deliver performance payoffs.

The Exalytics appliance is $135,000, plus $29,700 per year for premier support and other fees, according to a price list published last month by Oracle. To this is added 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.

For customers already using Exadata and OBIEE (six- to seven-figure purchases each), adding Exalytics seems like a shoe-in--an incremental add-on expense with plenty of performance benefits. But for those not already wedded to Exadata or OBIEE, Exalytics may seem like an all-or-nothing alternative. Another case of all-red-stack commitment that heterogeneous IT shops may not be inclined to make.

Look for tension between customization and mass appeal as SaaS providers try to keep large customers happy while staying true to the multitenant model. Find out the whole story in our SaaS Adoption Soars, Yet Deployment Concerns Linger report. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Doug Henschen

Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of Transform Magazine, and Executive Editor at DM News. He has covered IT and data-driven marketing for more than 15 years.

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