Ellison hypes Oracle's data warehouse appliance

Oracle and HP recently joined the petabyte battle with all guns blazing

The high-end data warehousing wars are fast upon us. Vendors are launching ever more scalable DW solutions. And they're delivering them with more aggressive -- and slippery -- performance claims.

The DW industry's new battlefront is petabyte scalability. This refers to a DW platform's ability to ingest, store, process and deliver an order-of-magnitude more data than today's typical terabyte-size warehouses. In this regard, the competitive high ground is still held by pioneering DW-appliance provider Teradata. That vendor recently released a high-end, shared-nothing, massively parallel processing (MPP) DW appliance that can scale to an astounding 10 petabytes across as many as 1,024 compute/storage nodes.

Oracle and HP recently joined the petabyte battle with all guns blazing. At Oracle's annual OpenWorld conference, they jointly announced general availability of a new petabyte-scalable DW appliance: the HP Oracle Database Machine, which includes the HP Exadata Storage Server. They touted its "extreme" performance and scaling features, bolstering those claims through public demos and beta-tester testimonials.

Most significant, they enlisted none other than Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and HP honchos Mark Hurd and Ann Livermore to unveil the new offering from the conference's main stage.

Clearly, the HP Oracle Database Machine is highly strategic for both companies. It provides a platform for Oracle to sell more database licenses and for HP to sell more server and storage hardware into DW deployments. It will almost certainly get the partners onto vendor short lists, alongside Teradata, for petabyte-scale DW solutions, which are increasingly being deployed in such vertical markets as telecommunications, government and financial services.

Also, it helps them blunt the momentum of DW appliance up-and-comer Netezza, whose platform, like the new Oracle/HP offering, performs SQL processing in an intelligent storage layer, thereby accelerating queries and table scans against very large data sets.

For sure, the recent Oracle/HP announcement was substantial and has shifted the competitive dynamics in the high-end DW market. But it was also an exercise in pure, albeit well-engineered, marketing hype. Predictably, it triggered an immediate firestorm of heated retorts from aggrieved competitors, which will almost certainly escalate in coming months.

In the fog of war, the first casualty is perspective, and that's certainly the case in this competitive fracas. Buyers of DW solutions should exercise extreme caution when evaluating the new Oracle/HP solution vis-a-vis comparably scalable offerings from Teradata, Sybase, Greenplum, IBM and others. You'll definitely need to apply the standard caveats to Larry Ellison's bold price/performance claims for his new monster DW appliance. And considering that Ellison was employing the native marketing speak of the DW arena, you'll need to apply the same grains of salt to his competitors' tails. Everybody in the DW market presents their self-serving performance story in much the same way as Oracle's big kahuna.

For starters, Ellison studded his talk with what might be regarded as the "virtuous coefficients" of DW performance enhancement: 10x, 20x, 30x, 40x, 50x, as high as 72x speedups have been documented by beta testers of the HP Oracle Database Machine. Of course, every DW professional knows that these performance boosts are extremely sensitive to myriad implementation factors, such as what you put in a SQL "where" clause, how many table joins you perform, whether and how you compress the data and so forth.

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