Oracle Tries To Woo Midrange Shops With Database Appliance
September 26, 2011 Timothy Prickett Morgan
For the past two years, Oracle has been pitching its Exadata parallel database clusters and Exalogic parallel application server clusters to large enterprises, the kinds that normally buy big RISC, Itanium, or mainframe servers to run their back-end databases and applications. These machines, while interesting, are about as useful to an SMB as a Power 795 or zEnterprise 196. To go after small and medium businesses, Oracle needs to think smaller.
Thus, the company last week rushed out its announcement of the Oracle Database Appliance, a pretuned cluster of two X86-based rack servers designed to run the company’s 11g Enterprise Edition database management system and allowing for Real Application Clustering for capacity, for high availability, or for a mix of the two.
The fact that the machine is based on Intel’s current six-core Xeon X5675 processors is a bit amusing, given that Oracle, as we report elsewhere in this issue, is about to launch its own eight-core Sparc T4 processor. It is even funnier if you happened to listen in to Oracle’s conference call with Wall Street analysts going over its very good financial results for its first quarter of fiscal 2011 ended in August, when Larry Ellison, Oracle’s co-founder and chief executive officer, had this to say:
“I don’t care if our commodity X86 business goes to zero. We don’t make any money selling those machines. We have no interest in selling other people’s IP [Short for intellectual property, of course, not the Internet Protocol] Commodity X86 includes Intel IP and Microsoft IP. We don’t make money selling that. Sun sold that stuff, and we are phasing out that business. We have no interest in it whatsoever. We have an interest in selling systems that include our IP. That’s how we’re going to drive the profitability of our overall hardware business, eventually. I think that’s in fairly short order.”
Ellison is so rich that he apparently doesn’t have to be logically consistent. Or wait until the Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco in early October to launch the four new systems that were presumably to be the stars of the show–the Oracle Database Appliance being one of them and a SuperCluster based on new Sparc T4 systems, due today, being another. Why the Oracle Database Appliance is not running on a single Sparc T4 system is truly perplexing, particularly given Oracle’s goal of pitting the Sparc T4 machines against X86 machines and what Ellison just said above.
Despite the logical inconsistency and perhaps the long-term prospects of an X86-based database appliance, the machine launched by Oracle last week will get some interest from Oracle channel partners that have largely been sidelined by the company since it took over Sun Microsystems in January 2010 and among SMB customers that are looking to consolidate their databases onto new iron.
The hardware underneath the Oracle Database Appliance has a single product number, the Sun Fire X4370 M2, which is itself a pair of rack-mounted Sun Fire X4270 M2 servers. These servers have two sockets and have been equipped with two six-core Xeon X5675 processors running at 3.06 GHz and sporting 12 MB of L3 cache memory per processor. Oracle is adding 96 GB of main memory to the machines, two 73 GB solid state disks for storing database logs, and 10 3.5-inch 600 GB SAS disk drives, which are used to hold your database files. A pair of 2.5-inch 500 GB SATA disks, which are mirrored for data protection and which plug into the back of the server chassis for each node, are used to host Oracle’s clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.5 in this case) and the Oracle database management system.
Oracle says that the appliance can have 12 TB of raw database capacity and is intended to serve up databases that are 4 TB or smaller in size. All 24 cores in the pair of servers are installed and activated, and you have to put Oracle 11g Enterprise Edition on at least two of these cores if you are doing an active-passive failover scenario or at least four cores if you are using the clustered machines in an active-active cluster. The clustering software is, of course, Oracle’s Real Application Clusters (RAC).
The base hardware comes with one price: $50,000, and that includes Gigabit Ethernet switches to couple the two servers. All the hardware is turned on, unlike what happens with Power Systems machines where you need to activate cores with licenses. (I am not sure Oracle knows how to do this yet on X86 machines, or anyone else for that matter.) A perpetual license to 11g Enterprise Edition costs $47,500 per core, but using Oracle’s core scaling factors, you multiply the price by 0.5 and it only costs half as much per core, or $23,750. So the base 11g database is $47,500, plus another $5,225 per core per year for support. The Standard Edition of the 11g database includes the RAC clustering software for up to four sockets, but on Enterprise Edition, RAC will run you $23,000 per core for a perpetual license plus $5,060 per core. Assuming the same scaling factor, and adding in a premier support contract for Oracle Enterprise Linux (which costs $2,299 per system per year), the whole thing costs $140,608. That is not exactly an SMB price, is it?
This should have been bundled with 11g Standard Edition, obviously, and if I was looking at this, that is the argument I would be making to the Oracle sales rep. The Standard Edition license only runs $17,500 per core, plus $3,850 per core for support each year. That would drop the price tag down to $75,948 for a machine set up to run in an active-passive cluster.
If either of those prices sounds like a lot, it is still cheaper than what Big Blue charges for IBM i, which will run you $40,000 per core, plus $4,000 per core per year for Software Maintenance on a Power 750; a base Power 750 with 24 cores running at 3.2 GHz and with 96 GB of memory and two 146 GB disks will run you $79,352. Activate two cores on this machine to run IBM i, add some disks to make it useful and you are talking around $175,000 at list price–and that is without failover clustering.
If you want to do a baby cluster that mimics the Oracle Database Appliance based on Power 720s, you could get two eight-core Power 720s using 3 GHz Power7 chips for $33,990, and beefing up the memory and disk to similar levels, you are at $65,230. That does not include any fancy schmancy flash to speed up database performance, which can cost you another $8,800 for two 177 GB modules. Call it $74,030. Now add two IBM i licenses on each machine (for the base two cores), with Software Maintenance, and you are up to $104,020. That doesn’t include PowerHA clustering or DB2 Multisystem, which has some of the parallel processing functionality of Oracle RAC. DB2 Multisystem will run you $25,000 per machine, and PowerHA SystemMirror for i costs $2,500 per core for a small machine. So you fire up four cores on that?
Add it all up, the Power 720 cluster that we could call the IBM i Database Appliance for SMBs would cost $164,020. That’s less money than a standalone Power 750 of equivalent performance and it has resiliency built in. Most importantly, it is within spitting distance of what Oracle is charging for an appliance with two cores fired up to do database work. If IBM made DB2 Multisystem cheaper on the Power 720–call it $2,500 per machine–then lo and behold the IBM i setup would cost $119,020, less than what Oracle is pitching. But remember, on Power 720 machines, there are IBM i user fees that would be added on top of this–$250 per user–and at 200 users, you are talking another $25,000. So call it a dead heat between Oracle’s actual Database Appliance and my theoretical IBM i Database Appliance.
I have said it before (many times) and I will say it again: IBM needs to do RAC on baby IBM i clusters to compete with Oracle head-on. The JD Edwards installed base is all that is at stake initially, followed by the Infor customer base after that. It’s not like the stakes are high or anything like that.