Shortly after the initial release of the HP Oracle Database Machine and the Exadata Storage Server, this blog described the new products. As organizations tested the hardware / software solution and more details have emerged on how it is delivered, we formulated some additional observations. We are beginning to recognize how this platform is an early view as to how Oracle will package "best practices" for organizations that want to buy a complete platform going forward.
Much of the advertising for the HP Oracle Database Machine is about performance speedup. In real workload tests, many of Oracle's customers are seeing far more than ten times performance improvement. It is abundantly clear that many data warehousing installations of the Oracle database on custom hardware configurations are deployed on badly unbalanced hardware. In the earlier blog, we described unbalanced as meaning that the throughput provided by the storage infrastructure is not close to the throughput that the CPUs and memory in the servers can handle. Balance was viewed as critical by Oracle in competitive benchmarks prior to the HP Oracle Database Machine and producing performance results on balanced platforms, such as those based on the lessons learned from the Optimized Warehouse Initiative, demonstrated tremendous performance improvement.
The HP Oracle Database Machine configuration assures balance by providing a proper ratio of Database Server nodes to Exadata Storage Server Cells and leverages high throughput provided by InfiniBand. Though Oracle customers' proof tests on the HP Oracle Database Machine are usually run with little or no changes to database structure and queries, in some situations, performance teams are removing the extensive indexing and "optimization" techniques that were part of production environments and seeing even better performance.
Certainly, the Exadata Storage Server cells in the HP Oracle Database Machine can have tremendous impact beyond the benefits of simply providing a balanced hardware configuration. By pushing "smart scans" to storage and reducing data returned to the database to results sets, individual queries can see tremendous speed-up. The results sets are returned in parallel to the database server where they are assembled, hence some analysts describing the storage as "massively parallel".
That said, how Oracle Database 11g Enterprise Edition and other software on the HP Oracle Database Machine is installed in standard delivery of the platform is worth noting here. The hardware / software configuration phase includes set up of networking within the Database Machine, configuration of all software components, creation of an optimized database that is fully mirrored (using ASM), and validation of performance and functionality. Essentially, buyers of the platform need to choose what to name the database and SID, what national character set is used, and whether the database is set up using ARCHIVELOG or NOARCHIVELOG. Other database settings, including common initialization parameters, tablespace layout, and sizes of standard components (e.g. SYSTEM, SYSAUX, Redo Logs, Undo, and Temp space) are pre-set based on Oracle best practices.
Database Administrators still have access to all that Oracle installs through standard management interfaces provided by Grid Control and Enterprise Manager. But an early lesson learned in testing real workloads appears to confirm that this really is an appliance-like solution that delivers a much different care and feeding experience than typical custom configurations have required in the past.
This is not to say that complex organizations won't extend the configurations in unusual ways (something that seems common among Oracle's customers). What this author expects to see going forward is a broad mixture of deployment strategies. Some will think of the HP Oracle Database Machine as an appliance and will manage it that way with minimal intervention. Others will use the best practices and standard components as a starting point in matching more complex and unusual workloads and requirements that can't typically be addressed with appliances.