JameskobielusBy James Kobielus

Oracle saved its most significant new product announcement for the third day of OpenWorld.

In classic marketing fashion, the vendor teased the thousands of attendees for days, prominently touting some exciting, mysterious new initiative by the quasi-algebraic designator "X." And the OpenWorld agenda showed that this earth-shattering announcement was to be delivered in mid-afternoon from the Moscone Center main stage by none other than Mr. Larry Ellison, in conjunction with HP honchos Mark Hurd and Ann Livermore.

Clearly, this was engineered to be the culminating uber-splash in an OpenWorld that was already jam-packed with significant new stuff. Fortunately, Oracle did not disappoint. In fact, the software giant demonstrated that it can now scale its DW/DBMS platform to address the petabyte-scale analytics requirements that will soon come into the enterprise mainstream everywhere.

First off, and this almost goes without saying, Oracle’s new DW product platform is not really called "X." As it turns out, that alphabetic masked man refers to the vendor’s new very-high-end DW appliance, the HP Oracle Database Machine. Available now, this new product leverages Oracle’s 11g grid scale-out features and integrates with an HP-developed grid-storage platform: Exadata Storage Server. Oddly, Ellison referred to the appliance/storage combo as "Oracle’s first hardware product," though in fact they’re just as much HP’s offering, and in spite of the fact that Oracle and several partners have been offering DW appliances (Oracle Optimized Warehouses for [hardware vendor X, HP among them] for a year or more now).

So what exactly is new about this new Oracle/HP DW appliance and its Exadata grid storage layer? For Oracle’s positioning in the DW market, this new product is a bold move into petabyte scale-out territory, an emerging, very-high-end niche in which one veteran vendor, Teradata, has been pre-eminent (though, in fact, most real-world enterprise DWs barely go beyond 10-15 TB, for which Oracle’s existing DBMS/DW stack, which can push into the 100s of TBs, is more than sufficient).

But it’s not just a shot across Teradata’s prominent bow. Oracle’s new DW appliance platform also allows it to joust more effectively with the upstart appliance pure-plays — in particular, Netezza. Like that vendor’s appliance, the Oracle Database Machine offloads SQL query processing and large-table scans to an intelligent storage layer. Whereas Netezza uses a technique that involves field-programmable gate arrays, Oracle has leveraged its 11g technology to parallelize query/scan execution to a massively parallel pool of Exadata storage cells. Just as important, this storage layer is transparent to applications, which need not be rewritten to tap into the grid-based performance boost.

For DW, the performance benefits are several. The Exadata technology offloads as much as half of query/scan processing from the Oracle Database Machine’s host CPUs, thereby freeing up those DW server processors to execute more queries more efficiently. Also, Exadata can significantly reduce the amount of data that the storage layer sends to the DW server’s CPUs–returning query results and not disk blocks — thereby making more efficient use of I/O bandwidth than is possible with storage array; in the process, the Exadata storage layer expands the transaction throughput of the overall Oracle Database Machine grid. Also, Oracle/HP have implemented this storage grid over Infiniband, taking advantage of the much greater throughput afforded by this interconnect (as much as 5-16x vis-à-vis Fibre Channel or Gigabit Ethernet). Finally, the Exadata grid storage layer can be scaled out linearly into the petabytes through dynamic provisioning of modular "cells" (preconfigured rack-mounted storage/processing servers).

Underlining the fact that this is all real, generally available, and works, the vendors (separately, in a demo area at OpenWorld) demonstrated a petabyte-scale Oracle Database Machine. It has been configured with 7 racks, 100+ Exadata storage cells, and 1000+ SAS and SATA disks/drives. By all accounts, it screams, and crunches very large, complex, mixed analytic workloads and massive data sets with astonishing speed.

By the way, the Oracle Database Machine with Exadata grid storage only runs the 11g database ( now, and only on Linux. Ellison promised that Exadata will be integrated with Oracle Database 11g on other operating systems — at some indefinite date(s). However, the vendor has no plans to support Exadata Storage on Oracle Database 10g.

But let’s come to earth here. Oracle is just one of several DW vendors that have petabyte-scale solutions. It’s best not to get all whipped up in a lather by an artfully constructed event-based marketing tease. I’ll be authoring a Forrester report in the fourth quarter on best practices in scaling, accelerating, and optimizing your DW. Yes, of course, I’m taking due note of what Oracle/HP hath wrought. I’m examining their approach in depth — plus those of their many fierce rivals, large and upstart — many of which have already planted their flags on Planet Petabyte.

Oh…a related thought…before Larry came on stage, Oracle’s Safra Catz described HP as "our closest partner." I wonder what that says about Oracle’s relationships with its other hardware partners under the Oracle Optimized Warehouse program. Is HP now first among equals among Oracle’s appliance partners? Though Oracle says that its (less scalable, 10g-centric) Oracle Optimized Warehouse Warehouse partnerships with IBM, Sun, Dell/EMC, and SGI (and of course HP), are still important, these other partners can quite clearly see that HP is the one Oracle considers most strategic in its battle against DW arch-nemeses Teradata and Netezza.

One more thought…and this is just a trivia note for those who care. This new monster DW appliance was formerly codenamed "Extreme Performance Warehouse." I suspect that the "X" comes from Extreme, plus from the name of the HP storage technology. "Exa-" appears to be HP’s new branding trope for scalable infrastructure solutions.

Finally…can’t help myself…just one more…I was a tad disappointed when Larry didn’t leap out on stage with a big "X" on his chest, or accompanied by one of the X-Men, or masked and saber-armed, Zorro-style, carving a big X in the hide of some big bad analytic challenge. Or big bad DW rival.

But, clearly, Larry Ellison positioned his new uber-appliance as the superhero that will vanquish his DW foes. That was definitely an impressive black monolith, X-emblazoned, that stood by his side.