Oracle Bets on High End With Sparc T4 Servers

Oracle announced its new Sparc T4 server line on Tuesday, stating the new machines outperform IBM Power7 and HP Itanium-based systems.

In fact, the Sparc T4-4-based SuperCluster is 2.4 times faster than an all-IBM solution and 5.7 times faster than the HP Superdome 2, Oracle said.

The SPARC SuperCluster T4-4 combines Oracle’s SPARC T4-4 server running Oracle Solaris with the optimized database performance of Oracle Exadata storage cells and the accelerated middleware and application processing of the Exalogic Elastic Cloud software, Oracle said.

It also offers internal shared disk storage using Oracle’s Sun ZFS Storage 7320 Appliance.

More information will be disclosed at the Oracle OpenWorld 2011 conference and exhibition, to be held next week in San Francisco.

The T4 systems will accelerate Oracle’s move away from low-margin commodity servers toward high-margin engineering systems, a trend that has increased the company’s gross margins and the overall profitability of its hardware business, CEO Larry Ellison said during the firm’s Q2 earnings call last week.

But that road carries its own set of risks.

“Oracle would much prefer to sell its own product stack from the ground up,” Charles King, principal at Pund-IT, told the E-Commerce Times. “But it’s ignoring the market momentum, which continues to flow towards x86, which are the low-margin commodity servers. That’s the same mistake Sun Microsystems executives made in the years following the dot-com bust,” King added.

“This [focus on the low-volume, high-margin market] is an interesting idea, but Oracle can’t be selective because the majority of the market is in the high-volume, low-margin space,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, pointed out.

“If you’re General Motors, trying suddenly to be Bentley is probably not going to be a successful strategy because your ecosystem is designed around a much higher volume,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times.

Oracle spokesperson Carol Sato declined comment.

Some Sparc T4 Server Features

The Sparc T4 line will have built-in virtualization with live migration through pre-integration of the Oracle VM hypervisor for Sparc and Solaris Zones, Oracle said.

They also include new cryptographic units on the processors. These units support over a dozen industry-standard ciphers.

Sparc T4 processors have dynamic threading. This lets a high-priority application to grab one thread on a core and use all that thread’s resources.

Oracle also announced new versions of three new Oracle Optimized Solutions for the Sparc T4 family of servers.

These are the Oracle Optimized Solution for Oracle Database, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and Oracle WebLogic Suite.

A SuperCluster T4-4 Snapshot

Oracle first introduced the Sparc SuperCluster in December of 2010. These would be based on the Sparc T3 and the Sparc Enterprise M5000 server and were scheduled for release this year.

The idea behind the SuperCluster is to provide a complete infrastructure solution for running Oracle database RAC environments. Oracle RAC is a cluster database with a shared cache architecture.

The Sparc SuperCluster T4-4 will support all current Oracle Solaris applications and supports the latest release of Oracle Solaris, as well as the upcoming release of Oracle Solaris 11, Oracle said.

The T4-4 supports up to four compute nodes and 4 TB of memory in a single rack, and it has been provisioned to scale to an eight-rack system.

Using the SuperCluster could be pricey because Oracle charges for its database software on a per-core basis and adjusts the pricing based on what it calls a “core scaling” factor. The company has reportedly doubled its core scaling factor table for the Sparc T4 processor family.

“This point requires close study, especially by businesses considering T4 purchases,” Pund-IT’s King warned. “Oracle’s software pricing tends to include a heavy dose of caveat emptor.”

Add to that the decrease in volume that will result from Oracle’s gunning for the low-volume, high-margin business, and prices might hit levels that some might find uncomfortable.

“This will drive Oracle prices up, and that will have customers screaming because those prices are already very high,” Enderle remarked.

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