Oracle Looks To Undercut IBM With SuperCluster T4-4


Oracle’s new SuperCluster T4-4 is the first to run its new T4 processors

Oracle executives are looking to aggressively expand their data centre offerings, both horizontally and vertically, as it ramps up its competition against IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Chief executive Larry Ellison and other executives on 26 September unveiled the SPARC SuperCluster T4-4, a general-purpose high-end system powered by the next-generation T4 processor that Oracle aims to compete with IBM’s most powerful Power-based servers.

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At the same time, Oracle co-President Mark Hurd reportedy said the company may buy more industry-specific software makers as it looks to grow its portfolio for vertical markets.

Ellison and John Fowler, executive vice president of systems for Oracle, introduced the SuperCluster during press conference at the software giant’s headquarters. The massive system is the third offering from Oracle since it bought Sun Microsystems early last year for $7.4 billion (£4.7bn). The first two – the Exadata database system and Exalogic cloud server – were built for specific jobs. The SuperCluster is aimed at workloads of all sorts, but like the other two, is particularly optimised for Oracle’s Solaris operating system and enterprise applications, Ellison said.

The system is the first to run on the T4 chip and to run the Solaris 10 or 11 OS, and incorporates elements of both the Exadata and Exalogic systems, including Exadata Storage Servers and Exalogic Elastic Cloud Software. Ellison and Fowler said Oracle is seeing better performance than expected from the eight-core T4, which offers up to 64 threads. In an interview with eWEEK following the press conference, Fowler said that Oracle officials initially expected a three-fold performance improvement over the current T3 chip. That turned out to be a five-times performance increase.

Ellison targeted IBM throughout the event, arguing that the SuperCluster offers significantly better performance at a lower cost than IBM’s high-end P795 servers. He also noted that the SuperCluster offers a parallel computing model that offers greater reliability and security than IBM’s system. If one part of the Oracle system fails, it won’t bring down the entire system.

“There is no single point of failure [in the SuperCluster],” he said. “The P795 is a big single point of failure.”

Range of systems

Oracle will sell systems that range from a low-end offering with a single T4 chip to higher-end systems with four T4 processors, up to 1 terabyte of memory and 600GB hard disks. The larger systems will run over five racks.

Oracle’s new system comes at a time of flux for the Unix market. IBM continues to lead the market, growing its share by 6 percent in the second quarter while both Oracle and HP lost share. HP and Oracle have been locked in a legal dispute since Oracle officials announced in March that the company would no longer develop software for Intel’s Itanium platform, which powers HP’s high-end Integrity systems. HP also is being hobbled by issues in the executive offices, including just appointing its second chief executive is less than a year. Oracle has been trying to retain customers since taking over Sun’s hardware business.

Both Ellison and Fowler said the new SuperCluster, as well as the Exadata and Exalogic systems, will help Oracle keep their Unix customers. The new system is backware compatible with older Sun SPARC servers, and the performance increase and relative low cost will attract users.

“We wanted to give them a smooth upgrade path,” Ellison said, adding that he expects existing SPARC customers to embrace the offering. “It’s a big, fast computer.”

Fowler said Oracle has more than 50 users beta testing the T4-4 systems and showing significant interest in the offering.

New customers

While Oracle may be aiming the system at current SPARC customers, Fowler said the company also is expecting to gain new customers. “The comparisons with IBM were very obvious,” he said in the interview.

IBM just announced a big win over both Oracle and HP, with officials saying they will sell Power 750 Express and Power 740 Express systems to the Escorts Group, an India-based manufacturer of heavy equipment. IBM beat out both Oracle and HP for the contract.

Also on 26 September, Oracle’s Hurd reportedly gave several interviews outlining the company’s plans for continued integration of its software and hardware systems. He also told Bloomberg News that the company will continue eyeing industry-specific software makers in such areas as financial services.

“There’s a lot of value in these industry verticals we’ve invested in over the years,” Hurd told the news service, referring to software for the banking, telecommunications and retailing industries. “It’s hard to beat the returns the company gets.”

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