Oracle Unveils New SPARC Supercluster, Exalogic Offerings

Oracle officials are making several announcements around their SPARC/Solaris hardware business, including a new cluster solution and an Exalogic cloud-in-a-box powered by the T3 processor.

Oracle officials are unveiling new SPARC-based data center hardware as the company looks to build on the processor and server business it gained through its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems in January.

Oracle will announce the new offerings at an event Dec. 2 at the company's Santa Clara, Calif., campus.

The products will touch on a number of areas, including high-end databases and cloud computing, according to Bob Shimp, group vice president of product marketing for Oracle.

The company also will announce new TPC-C benchmarks that Oracle officials say shows higher database performance for a SPARC-based compute cluster than similar configurations of IBM Power systems and Itanium 2-based Integrity servers from Hewlett-Packard, Shimp said in an interview with eWEEK.

The moves will build on the SPARC roadmap that officials like John Fowler, a former Sun hardware executive and now Oracle's executive vice president for systems, have laid out over the past year, and recent announcements the company's made, Shimp said. Fowler will be joined at the event by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and President Mark Hurd.

At Oracle's OpenWorld 2010 show in September, company officials unveiled the 16-core SPARC T3 processor and new systems built to run on the chip. They also talked about plans for the Solaris operating system. That came a month after Fowler, in a Webcast presentation, outlined Oracle's plans for both Solaris 11-which is due out in 2011-and the SPARC platform.

Sun has mapped out plans for the SPARC chips to 2015, and within five years, the transaction capabilities of the processors will be five times what they are now, Fowler said. The company plans to double the performance of the SPARC chips ever other years for the next five years, officials have said. In addition, the company will bring SPARC to two server lines-the T Series, which will feature energy-efficient systems, and the M Series of high-end, mission-critical machines.

The news Dec. 2 falls in line with those previous announcements, Shimp said. Oracle is announcing that a cluster of 24 Oracle systems powered by SPARC T3 chips set a transaction record of 30 million transactions per minute in the TPC-C benchmark, which was three times faster than a comparable IBM Power cluster and seven times faster than an HP Integrity cluster solution powered by Intel's Itanium 2 chips, he said.

Based on that compute cluster, Oracle officials also will announce the SPARC Supercluster solution, which Shimp said will be a highly scalable, rack-based system that offers Oracle's wide range of database capabilities, and can hold up to 108 SPARC T3 chips-or more than 1,700 cores.

"It's a system that a customer can use to scale out and consolidate all their database workloads," he said.

Oracle also will announce a new Exalogic cloud computing system that is powered by SPARC chips and runs Solaris. Oracle officials first introduced Exalogic in September, calling it a system that enables businesses to run their own private clouds through a single box. That Exalogic box, which features 30 servers with 360 processing cores, was based on x86 chips from Intel, Shimp said. It also supports Oracles own virtualization technology and two guest operating systems, Solaris and Linux, and is packed with Oracle enterprise software.

This new Exalogic solution will complement that through the use of SPARC T3 chips and also running Solaris, Shimp said.

In addition, Oracle is putting the latest-generation SPARC64 chip into its M Series system, which among other things will double the L2 cache from 6MB to 12MB, and ramp up the clock speed from 2.6GHz to 3GHz, he said.

Shimp would not say when the new systems would be available, nor would he comment on pricing.

The announcements continue Oracle's efforts to show customers and the industry that it is serious about its hardware plans. Since the company first announced last year its intentions to buy Sun, there were questions about its commitment to Sun's hardware business. Ellison and others repeatedly said they intended to build upon and invest in Sun's hardware operations, noting that combining it with Oracle's enterprise software gave them an advantage over rivals like IBM and HP.

Some analysts have noted that despite Oracle's moves and comments from executives, many customers don't appear sold. In a survey in August, TheInfoPro found that Oracle was among the most vulnerable of server OEMs to economic issues, with analysts saying they continue to see a drop in spending on Sun equipment. However, Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64, said Oracle officials' decisions to drop certain Sun projects-such as the "Rock" SPARC chips-and to simplify the company's chip design process has helped the hardware business.

"[The sale to Oracle has] given [Sun] a lot of focus that was somewhat missing before," Brookwood said at the time.

Shimp said Oracle has been aggressive in meeting with customers to talk to them about its plans for the Sun hardware business. Oracle officials traveled to Bedford, Mass., just north of Boston, in September to talk with customers about their roadmap for SPARC and Solaris. The Massachusetts visit was one of about 100 such events Oracle has scheduled worldwide.

Market research firms Gartner and IDC disagreed on Oracle's server performance in the third quarter. In its report Nov. 29, Gartner said that Oracle's server revenue fell 2.6 percent, from more than $784 million in the third quarter 2009 to more than $763 million during the same period this year. Oracle was the only one in the top five to see its revenues drop, and Adrian O'Connell, an analyst with Gartner, said the company faces a difficult task moving forward.

"Following the acquisition of Sun's hardware business, the company now faces the challenge of preventing further declines in the hardware segment," O'Connell said in a statement.

However, IDC said Oracle's server revenues grew .9 percent, from more than $779 million last year to more than $786 million in the third quarter 2010.