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Oracle Exalytics Invites Comparisons To SAP's Hana Appliance

Oracle headlined its Oracle OpenWorld 2011 convention this week by unveiling the Exalytics appliance for business intelligence (BI), which can analyze data instantaneously since the data runs in memory rather than being retrieved from storage. The appliance seems similar to one already on the market from rival SAP, the Hana appliance, but an Oracle executive begs to differ. Also at the conference going on in San Francisco, Oracle introduced an updated version of its Sun ZFS Storage Appliance.

Exalytics is a BI appliance that is engineered with Oracle software running on Oracle hardware, just as its Exadata, Exalogic and SPARC SuperCluster systems do. The system includes 1 Tbyte of digital random access memory (DRAM), but with compression it can store 5 to 10 Tbytes of raw data, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said in a keynote address Sunday night. The system runs on 40 cores of Intel Xeon processors and can scan memory at a rate of 200 Gbyte per second.

It also features an Infiniband network connection that operates at 40 Gbits per second. Ellison repeated the phrase "data analysis at the speed of thought," several times during his presentation.

SAP Hana (for High-Performance Analytic Appliance) is a software appliance, so it would need to be run in some kind of server. But Hana, which was introduced in December 2010, also does in-memory processing of data, can query multiple types of data--in databases or unstructured--in real time and "at speeds and volumes like never before," according to a page on the SAP website.

In a question and answer session with reporters Monday afternoon, Paul Rodwick, VP of product management for Oracle Business Intelligence, downplayed the similarities. "To me, Hana really hasn’t done anything yet for this 'speed of thought' interactive visualization by changing the [SAP] BusinessObjects tools to really take advantage of that," said Rodwick, referring to an SAP application that is in SAP’s business intelligence software suite.

He also said he thinks SAP has only a "limited" number of applications tuned to operate in an in-memory environment. In unveiling Hana, SAP promised "a new generation of applications ... in the next year" to perform BI in memory. Last month, at an SAP conference in Las Vegas, the company introduced SAP Smart Meter Analytics and SAP CO-PA Accelerator software. The Smart Meter app is used by utilities to crunch the massive amounts of data generated by smart meters deployed throughout their service areas. The CO-PA application is designed to speed up the process of analyzing financial data. The only other Hana app designed for in-memory environments is the SAP BusinessObjects Strategic Workforce Planning application.

Still, Oracle’s Rodwick says the beauty of Exalytics is the tight integration between software and hardware, both of them Oracle-made. "With Oracle Exalytics, it’s all proven technology: Oracle BI Foundation suite, Sun hardware, proven commodity components at low cost," he says. "And it can run out of the box ... without any application development or change."

Also at the conference, which runs through Thursday, Oracle introduced the third-generation Sun ZFS Storage Appliance for enterprise network-attached storage environments. Oracle says the Sun ZFS 7420 appliance delivers twice the performance at less than half the cost of rival NetApp’s 3270A model. Citing third-party testing results, Oracle said the Sun appliance completed 137,066 input-output instructions per second (IOPS) at a cost of $2.99/SPC-1 IOPS, an industry benchmark. By comparison, the NetApp appliance completed 68,035 IOPS at a cost of $7.48/SPC-1 IOPS.

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