Oracle serves up bite-size Exadata system for SMEs

Oracle, buffeted by major changes in how the IT industry treats hardware, has designed a new engineered system that can be shrunk into a bite-size version for small-to-medium-sized enterprises.

Oracle is sticking with its mission of dovetailing the hardware it acquired from Sun Microsystems into its own software despite poor performance in the hardware division .

Exadata 3
Exadata 3. Image: Jack Clark

At Oracle OpenWorld on Monday the company gave more details on its updated Exadata X3 system. The appliance, which is designed for online transaction processing, data warehousing, and Oracle's various database technologies, can pack up to 4TB of DRAM, 22TB of PCI-e attached flash memory and 224TB of usable disk storage into a single rack enclosure. 

With X3 (PDF), Oracle is adopting PCI-e attached flash storage as a primary data layer to provide fast processing of database workloads.

"We've added a massive amount of memory to the X3 platform," Juan Loaiza, a senior vice president for Oracle's systems technology, said in a keynote speech on Monday. "And we've moved all the I/Os into flash."

Along with this, the company is targeting small businesses via the X3 'eighth rack' configuration. This version of the appliance has a list price of $200,000 - and Ellison indicated in a keynote on Sunday that if businesses talk to Oracle salespeople, this price could come down.

The 'eighth rack' X3 can have up to 23TB of usable disk capacity, 2.4TB of flash and can support up to two database servers each backed by two eight-core Intel Xeon E5-2690 processors. 

It is designed for smaller companies than Oracle typically targets, and is meant to "bring the benefits of Exadata to even smaller workloads [and] bring the cost down", Loaiza said.

SME beachhead

Making an appliance of this kind represents a new direction for Oracle's hardware hardware strategy, and sees it try to establish an infrastructure beachhead inside smaller businesses than it has targeted before.

The term 'eighth rack' is somewhat misleading, as the system actually takes up a quarter rack but is artificially throttled via software. This means customers can unlock further features of the system by paying more as they grow - a tactic also taken by HP with its similar CloudSystem appliances .

With X3, Oracle is continuing with its 'hardware and software, engineered together' strategy.

However, though large enterprises may still be keen on well-engineered hardware, there is growing evidence that companies from server buyers like Facebook to server makers like Quanta are going the other way and adopting commoditised hardware platforms that sacrifice individual performance for a greater ability to scale.

When asked whether Oracle's 'red-stack' strategy could affect its ability to partner with companies on future hardware development, Mark Hurd, co-president of Oracle, said: "I think there will be a part of the market that will continue to buy best of breed, but in the context of that we like our chances."

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