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Oracle flexes its hardware muscles with beefed-up Exadata X9M appliance

Kicking sand in the faces of less mighty systems, it is only worth the price tag if stellar performance is a must

Oracle has released the latest upgrade to its Exadata database appliance series, claiming to better earlier iterations on I/O and throughput.

Building on the heritage of tightly integrated hardware and software it acquired with Sun Microsystems back in 2009, Big Red's beefed-up Exadata X9M claims online transaction processing (OLTP) with more than 70 per cent higher input/output operations per second (IOPS) on its earlier release, the X8M. Oracle also reckons the system performs with 19µs I/O latency from database to storage, 10 times faster than flash memory.

Exadata X9M is pitched as enabling customers to reduce the costs of running transactional workloads by up to 42 per cent, and analytics workloads by up to 47 per cent, compared with the previous generation, Oracle said. Meanwhile, analytical workloads performed 87 per cent faster.

Oracle uses Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) instead of I/O to read persistent memory file stores between the database server and the storage server to reduce latency, said Ashish Ray, vice president of product management, Oracle Exadata.

"It is an architectural shift in the sense [of] how we integrated persistent memory directly into Exadata storage servers: it’s the software, which integrates completely with the application. So, when we introduce this layer in our storage server it means all the database-workloads can immediately take advantage of the system because it is now in this shared storage server. The IOPS goes up immensely and the latency comes down."

Big Red is also taking Exadata to the cloud – sort of. It is available as Cloud@Customer X9M, which means it sits in a customer or hosted data centre, but is managed by Oracle, on a cloud internal to the customer. In this setup, Oracle claims 50x better OLTP I/O latency than AWS RDS on-premises and 100x better than Azure SQL.

Competitive swipes aside, the performance would appeal both to Oracle customers wanting to upgrade and users with requirements for high-performance workloads, said Noel Yuhanna, Forrester principal analyst.

"A lot of large organisations who are not Oracle customers could also find a benefit with Exadata because it can drive higher performance and high throughput," he said. "What people really need today is a fully automated system that can scale very well [so] they can deliver high-performance low latency access to critical data without having so many resources to optimise it."

Outside of use cases that require the highest performance, users might find better options. "I would say if you're looking for a lower-end database, or not so high-performance database, then there are obviously better choices like open-source databases to go after," he said.

Carl Olofson, IDC research vice president, said he had no reason to doubt Oracle's performance claims because the Exadata technology "is solid".

However, as with any integrated proprietary system, there are downsides, he said. "Your flexibility in migrating off later is limited. That's the trade-off: reduced future flexibility in return for speed of execution and simplicity of operations, management, and database development."

The primary objective for Oracle is to provide users with a migration path that requires no effort, offers benefits, and uses Oracle's applications and staff expertise. "New customers would be a welcome plus," Olofson said.

He agreed that users looking to move databases between platforms might find Oracle's approach difficult. While it is possible to run Oracle databases on AWS, for example, "Oracle has a peculiar way of charging for AWS compute that has put off many," he said.

"For high-end workloads, Oracle Database users should look to Exadata and to Oracle Autonomous Database. For mid-sized workloads, there is real competition here from a cost perspective with a range of cheaper alternatives. But the devil is in the details. The user must look at current and future requirements and take all cost factors into account.

"Also, there is a tendency to give in to emotion and say 'no more Oracle no matter what' due to past sales tactics. I think everyone needs to move past all that." ®

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