Linux clusters head to the datacentre

Dell has strengthened its relationship with Oracle to help continue its move into the enterprise datacentre with clustered Intel servers running on Linux

Dell and Oracle strengthened their ties in New York on Wednesday when the companies announced at a press conference they were going to work even closer together in an attempt to push Linux into the enterprise datacentre. Dell's services arm has partnered with Oracle's consulting unit to try and entice enterprises to migrate away from their proprietary database architectures onto a standards-based clustered server system running on Linux with Intel processors. The companies have been close partners for five years, but analysts say their latest clustered server offerings should be taken seriously by enterprise IT managers -- at least in the longer term. "The message to the user in an enterprise is that they should start planning for a future conversion to change from the top-end RISC systems to a standardised platform," said George Weiss, vice president research director of enterprise servers and storage at Gartner. Larry Ellison, chief executive of Oracle, said: "As companies automate more and more, they become dependent on their database. If you are running your application on a single database server, that server is a single point of failure." Ellison explained that the company's 9i RAC software, which has already achieved success in the market, "allows you to take a group of Dell machines and assemble your own 'super-mainframe'. Whether it is two, four, eight, 24 or even more Dell machines, they will look like a single computer -- from the point of view of the application." Ellison also pointed out that by creating a cluster, increasing capacity is a relatively simple process: "If you have bought the largest mainframe there is and you need more power, there is nowhere to go until IBM or HP build a faster machine. We take a fundamentally different approach and let our customers assemble a big machine with a number of little machines. If we need more capacity in our datacentre, we just plug in another Dell machine. That really is computing on demand." Weiss said that after one failed attempt at clustering, Oracle might be onto a winner this time, especially by partnering with Dell: "The interesting part of this is how committed Oracle appears to the cluster market, which is the result of 9i RAC's success in the market. It is something they have been trying for ten years to succeed in -- before this [their previous architectures] failed miserably, but now they feel they have something that can give users a good level of scalability." Weiss believes that by pushing a Dell/Linux solution, Oracle will be able to take market share away from Microsoft's SQL server. In the same vein, by offering an Oracle/Intel solution, Dell is "carving out market share from Unix and RISC." Reliability, efficiency and price
When questioned about the reliability issues of using Intel and Linux -- as opposed to an IBM mainframe -- Ellison said: "A lot of people criticise and say that Linux is not as reliable as a big old IBM mainframe -- I happen to think it is, but it doesn't matter because if one, two or even three machines in the cluster fail, you still have more than 20 left -- so who cares? Nobody will notice. This provides complete fault tolerance." He also commented on the improved efficiencies of using clusters: "The old approach to reliability was to have a mainframe running your application, and if anything went wrong, you would switch over to another identical mainframe which is otherwise doing nothing. This is called hot-standby and was state-of-the-art in reliable computing. But in a cluster, the whole grid is working all the time, so it is dramatically cheaper." "One of the most shocking things about moving to the Dell grid, is if you want a lot higher performance, you are going to have to be willing to spend less. Linux and Dell will be the dominant combination in the enterprise," added Ellison. "It's a good start," said Weiss, "But we are still a number of years away from being able to measure the overall success of this venture. Although users do want the better price and performance characteristics of a standard platform, there have large investments and commitments in legacy infrastructures." But Weiss warned that there are still concerns regarding latency issues -- in terms of memory to memory transfer between near and far servers. The new Dell-Oracle clusters will start at $18,000, Dell said. That price includes two dual-processor Dell PowerEdge 2650 servers with direct-attach SCSI storage, the Oracle software licence and two years of gold-level support, which includes 24-hour, four-hour response-time service, Dell said. Munir Kotadia reported from New York. CNET's John G. Spooner contributed to this report.

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