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Ellison: Sparc M7 is Oracle's most important silicon EVER

'Acceleration engines' key to performance, security, Larry says

OpenWorld During his OpenWorld keynote on Sunday, Oracle CEO CTO Larry Ellison took time out from talking up his company's cloud strategy to remind the audience that the database giant is in the hardware business, too – all the way down to the silicon.

Many of Oracle's "engineered systems" are powered by Intel processors – and Intel president Renee James was Ellison's opening act on Sunday – but the company is still investing in the Sparc processor technology it acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010.

The latest iteration of the tech, the Sparc M7, is due to launch sometime next year – although exact dates remain vague – and to hear Ellison tell it, it's "the most important thing we've done in silicon, maybe ever."

Oracle systems veep John Fowler first teased the new CPU at the Hot Chips conference in August. He described it as a 32-core chip with 64MB of on-chip L3 cache that can be easily put into a 32-way SMP configuration for a total of 1,024 cores that can handle 8,192 threads, with up to 64 terabytes of RAM.

But what makes the M7 really special, Ellison said on Sunday, are the "acceleration engines" baked into the chip that are purpose-built for speeding up Oracle applications.

"We've actually put database acceleration engines into our microprocessor, and with that we can speed up query performance by a factor of ten," Ellison said.

One way the M7 achieves this, Oracle's boss executive chairman said, is by handling compression in silicon – specifically on the decompression side.

"It turns out you compress when you load the data into memory, and you decompress when you read the data and process the data," Ellison said. "It turns out the ratio of reading and decompression is many times, ten times more frequent than loading the data into memory. So the real magic to speeding things up is not compression, it's decompression."

As a result, Ellison said, the M7 can process database queries at an eye-watering 120GB per second, which the Oracle founder described as being ten times more performance than the conventional hardware and software solution can manage.

But the most important innovation in the M7, Ellison said, is its new memory protection features, which prevent applications from sticking their grubby fingers where they don't belong and make it possible to avoid some of the most frustrating software bugs.

"The failures are intermittent; they're extremely hard to trap, they're extremely hard to trace," Ellison said. "With memory protection, you can discover those bugs really early, so it saves you a fortune finding really difficult bugs. But the cool thing about it is because it's in hardware, you can leave this memory protection on without paying any performance price."

Wrapping back around to the cloud – Oracle's overarching message for this year's OpenWorld – Ellison said nothing is more important to the modern cloud than protecting data and stopping programs with malicious intent.

As for when we can expect all of this goodness to arrive in actual servers, however, Ellison remained vague – as was Fowler in August – saying only that the Sparc M7 is due to ship in 2015. ®

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