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Ellison on Oracle 10g Enterprise Grid Computing

by Donald K. Burleson

Introduced with much fanfare, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison last week revealed his vision for the future of database management and Oracle’s plans to intercept the changes. Ellison began his keynote with his view of the history of how computer technology has changed: “Back in 1964 nobody had heard about the Beatles ... Elvis was the king of rock-and-roll ... It was a different world back then.” As I recall, in 1964 the Beatles were taking the world by storm, but we can forgive Larry for this little mistake. His point was that technology has changed all aspects of life.

When listening to Ellison, we get the impression that he spends a great deal of his time speculating on the future of technology. Oracle always strives to be proactive and predict the next big movement, often with mixed results. For example, Ellison was far ahead of the curve when he predicted the advent of Web appliances back in 1996. His attempt to sell Web appliances was far ahead of its time, and while his prediction that the future of PCs was quite correct, the market wasn’t ready. Today, we can clearly see that the future of PCs is with all application software being located in cyberspace.

We also have to remember that the market does not always move in exactly the same direction as Oracle has predicted. In 1997, Oracle8 was introduced with the promise that object orientation was the wave of the future. While history will show that Ellison was correct and Java and C++ have become a de-facto standard, Oracle was surprised to see that object-oriented databases were not embraced by the market.

Given his mixed history of brilliant insights and a vision that is sometimes too far ahead of the times, Ellison should best be viewed as a visionary with a firm stake in the future of computing. And having slipped from his position as the fourth richest person in the world, he has a vested interest in ensuring that his new Oracle10g products are embraced by the market.

Ellison began his presentation with his version of history and the current market. He mocked Microsoft’s TPCC database benchmark on a 64-CPU Windows server, claiming that Microsoft is myopic by using a large mainframe-like server. When discussing a visit by Microsoft to IBM labs, Ellison said: “They should have turned left into IBM research, but instead, they turned right into the IBM museum.”

Ellison’s disdain for large, monolithic servers was justified by noting that mainframe-like systems have a single point of failure and are constrained b 128 CPUs. “Big computers have limited capacity,” said Ellison, predicting that 128 processors would not be sufficient for the largest processing systems.

“Computer systems are outgrowing server capacity,” he continued, predicting that the future lies in the scale-out idea of Enterprise Grid computing. Ellison acknowledged that his “Enterprise Grid” concept is quite different from the traditional view of grid computing, and he went into great detail to distinguish his vision of grid computing from Scientific Grid computing (in which many computers are used to solve massively parallel problems).

Enterprise Grid computing gives the illusion of being a single computer, said Ellison, and he predicted that companies will soon embrace the low-cost, 64-bit Intel server blades. Ellison also noted that the Intel processors are the fastest and cheapest available: “If you want the fastest processors, then they will be forced to pay less.” Said Ellison: “Intel processors are the fastest in the world.”

In Ellison’s vision of Enterprise Grid computing, low-cost Intel server blades can be added and subtracted from the grid as-needed, providing “unlimited performance and capacity.” He also promised that the grid monitoring software will provide automatic load balancing, just as is found in a traditional SMP server.

Ellison also noted that Oracle 10g is becoming more automated, and less manual work will be involved in installing, maintaining, and tuning Oracle10g. He noted a new self-managing storage system, a self-tuning instance, and self-tuning SQL as new components that can reduce the manual workload. Ellison suggested that, with Oracle10g, companies could save millions of dollars by cutting their DBA staff, but he did not dwell on that new feature (a wise decision, since many of the attendees at his keynote were Oracle database administrators).

For now, many Oracle professionals are left to ponder the costs of grid computing versus the large, monolithic systems offered by the server consolidation vendors. One such vendor was quite upset by Oracle’s claim that mainframe-like configurations have a single point of failure, noting that many of the large 16- and 32-CPU servers have built-in fault tolerance and will never suffer a catastrophic failure. The critics also note that Oracle’s own failover products (DataGuard and Oracle*Streams) and can be made to provide 100 percent fault tolerance.

The market is split between the idea of server consolidation (moving many instances onto a single SMP server) and using server blades in a loosely-coupled configuration. However, it is clear that the Oracle10g Grid movement is economic, and that hardware savings are the driving force. The server consolidation experts say that a back-to-the-mainframe approach provides the best resource sharing, and without sophisticated software to allocate and de-allocate blades. The grid proponents maintain that server blade technology will provide the most scalable and flexible solution.

For now, it appears clear that few companies are going to replace their hardware with Intel 64-bit servers until their aging systems are no longer capable of serving their loads. So it may be a few years before we will know whether Larry Ellison’s vision will be widely adopted in the marketplace.


Donald K. Burleson is one of the world's top Oracle Database experts with more than 20 years of full-time DBA experience. He specializes in creating database architectures for very large online databases and he has worked with some of the world's most powerful and complex systems. A former Adjunct Professor, Don Burleson has written 15 books, published more than 100 articles in national magazines, serves as Editor-in-Chief of Oracle Internals and edits for Rampant TechPress. Don is a popular lecturer and teacher and is a frequent speaker at Oracle Openworld and other international database conferences. Don's Web sites include DBA-Oracle, Remote-DBA, Oracle-training, remote support and remote DBA.

Contributors : Donald K. Burleson
Last modified 2005-06-22 12:15 AM
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