IBM To Chase Oracle Accounts With 24-Core Power S1014
December 19, 2022 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If you are selling enterprise-grade servers that are explicitly designed to be data threshers running relational databases, then you have to deal with Oracle. Of course, Oracle does not have much of a server business of its own these days, not like it dreamed of having when it bought Sun Microsystems nearly a decade and a half ago.
Oracle still sells its Oracle X9-2 and X9-2L two-socket servers based on Intel “Ice Lake” Xeon SPs as well as its ancient Sparc T8 and M8 servers from nearly a decade ago. And it still says its Exadata database clusters, which compete against high-end servers Xeon SP servers from Hewlett Packard Enterprise and high-end Power9 and Power10 servers IBM. And at the low end, where Oracle still does a fair amount of business, it comes up against HPE, Dell, IBM, Lenovo, Inspur, and others who also sell midrange machines and who, of necessity, have to go after Oracle accounts without incurring the ire of co-founder Larry Ellison. Microsoft, with its Windows Server and SQL Server platform, has been pushing and pulling with the relational database juggernaut since SQL Server 2008, the first decent enterprise-grade database from Microsoft. Oh, and the MySQL and PostgreSQL piranhas are always taking pieces out of Oracle, too.
It is a delicate dance, and one that IBM in particular has to be careful about because its Db2 databases on mainframe, Power, and X86 servers compete against Oracle and its servers compete against Oracle iron. IBM is so enthusiastic about SAP’s HANA in-memory database in large part because it is an unwilling peddler of hardware to run Oracle.
Perhaps this is why IBM buried its intent on crafting a beefy Power S1014 server to take on Intel and AMD in the two-socket space with Oracle Database Standard Edition 2 in announcement letter 122-137, which was talking about revised technical information for a four-port 10 Gb/sec Ethernet adapter card that plugs into PCI-Express 3.0 slots and is certified to run on Power10 as well as Power9 iron.
Oracle Database SE2 is the version of the company’s relational database that is aimed at very precisely configured – Oracle is the one setting the rules, not the server makers – two-socket machines. That precision is needed because Oracle Standard Edition 2 has a list price of only $17,500 per socket compared to the $47,500 per core for Oracle Database Enterprise Edition. Oracle needs to compete against SQL Server on workhorse X86 engines, and that is what Oracle SE2 is all about.
Here is the statement of direction that IBM put out:
“IBM intends to announce a high-density 24-core processor for the IBM Power S1014 system (MTM 9105-41B) to address application environments utilizing an Oracle Database with the Standard Edition 2 (SE2) licensing model. It intends to combine a robust compute throughput with the superior reliability and availability features of the IBM Power platform while complying with Oracle Database SE2 licensing guidelines.”
As far as we know, and based on what IBM was telling business partners back in June ahead of the entry and midrange Power10 server launches on July 12, Big Blue is actually going to position two-socket Power S1014 and Power S1022s based on the single-chip versions of the Power10 processors to run Oracle SE2, not just the Power S1014:
The reason that IBM has to be careful here is that Oracle is counting each chip in a multichip module as a socket, which is kinda legit to one way of looking at it. With Oracle SE2 being priced per socket and Oracle EE being priced per core, you can see that a lot of shenanigans might happen. The more cores you stuff into each socket in a two-socket server, the cheaper Oracle SE2 is compared to Oracle EE. AMD has two generations of Epyc processors – “Milan” Epyc 7003s and “Genoa” Epyc 9004s – with 64 cores per socket, and Intel will soon have 60 cores per socket with its “Sapphire Rapids” Xeon SPs.
In the chart above, IBM explains that no matter how many cores are thrown at Oracle SE2, it is only allowed to run on 16 threads. That’s only eight Intel Xeon SP or AMD Epyc cores and only two IBM Power9 or Power10 cores with SMT8 threading turned on. It is not clear how this 24-core version of the Power S1014 is going to be useful except to run many different instances of the Oracle SE2 database side by side in logical partitions. That would be 12 cores for each socket, which would be six Oracle SE2 partitions across the machine. Here is the big deal here. If no single database is larger than 16 threads of performance, and you can license Oracle SE2 across those 24 cores for $35,000, that is a pretty good deal. Particularly when licensing Oracle EE on the same machine would list for $1.14 million. To be sure, Oracle SE2 has significant limitations beyond a governor on scale, including the lack of Oracle RAC clustering for performance and high availability. But for a lot of companies, Oracle SE2 is plenty of database for what they need.
We will be watching to see what IBM actually does with that future Power S1014 configuration for Oracle, and what the rationale is behind what it does. We will also keep an eye out for a Power S1022s running Oracle SE2, which was not part of the statement of direction but which is clearly something Big Blue is thinking about.