Oracle Server Buyer's Guide

by Drew Robb

More than a year after acquiring Sun Microsystems, the question remains: Where is Oracle going with its Sun server bounty, and where does it see the industry heading?

A buyer's guide about Oracle is a little different from those of its competitors. For HP, IBM or Dell it is a simple matter of relaying the latest updates in terms of processors, memory and key specs. Occasionally, there is a change of direction, but most of the time they build them faster, cheaper, quieter or smaller. Users are most interested in the incremental changes and the latest processors inside.

From Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), however, users want reassurance. Loyal Sun buyers need to know their cherished product lines and preferred processors will be there for the long haul. Similarly, those new to Sun/Oracle would be tempted only by a compelling reason to select its offerings over the perhaps "safer" options out there. As one user once said, "Nobody is going to lose their job over buying IBM machines."

So where is Oracle going with its Sun server bounty, and where does it see the industry heading?

Besides the obvious trends of continuing virtualization and private clouds, Graham Lovell, Senior Director of Product Management for Systems of Oracle (a long-term Sun server veteran), said highlighted three key trends:
  • Continuous drive for simplicity
  • Driving down total cost of ownership (TCO) through greater integration
  • Catching the optimization wave

"If you can see, and be alerted to, the state of health of the server and its ecosystem at multiple levels, the complexity is reduced significantly," said Lovell. "Most servers today have some form of intelligent console, but many lack the telemetry that links it to what the applications, middleware and operating system are doing, and back to the experts at the vendor's service center."

Accordingly, Oracle is integrating the server lights-out manager with the ops center, enterprise manager software, and the database and middleware layers to reveal a complete picture of the server's ecosystem when viewed at any entry point. Instead of paying someone to integrate and manage these elements, Oracle is pre-integrating them to deliver fully engineered systems. The Oracle Exadata system is an example of this approach. As noted below, many servers are now tailored to specific workloads -- a big differentiator for Oracle, as it will build a box around a specific application, a database or an OS.

In terms of overall direction, the company is concentrating on server hardware build mainly for Solaris, Linux and virtual machines (VMs). Lovell said Oracle is investing in blade- and rack-optimized servers using both the SPARC and x86 architectures.

"Oracle has stepped up its investment in SPARC processors with a published five-year roadmap," said Lovell. "SPARC continues to lead the industry for high-core CPUs, being the first to create both 8-core and 16-core CPUs."

x86 Oracle Servers

Historically, Sun created the world's first 8-CPU x86 system. Oracle followed that with its successor last summer, which used a blade-like design in a compact chassis. In fourth-quarter 2010, the company introduced the dual-node Sun Fire X6275 M2 blade module. According to Lovell, it offers up to more than two times the compute density of most blades.

Earlier this year, Oracle enhanced its Sun Fire x86 systems with Intel Xeon 5600 series processors. Lovell touts superior performance on Java applications for these servers.

The Sun Fire X4800 Server, for example is a 5U, 8-way server available with Oracle Solaris or Linux and Oracle VM pre-installed. "When deployed with Oracle Linux or Solaris and Oracle VM with premier support against Red Hat and VMware, the X4800 is up to 48 percent lower three-year TCO over HP or IBM," claimed Lovell.

It sells with four or eight Intel Xeon processor 7500 series processors, up to 1TB of memory using up to 128 DIMMs and up to eight 2.5-inch drive bays for hard drives. It is marketed as a platform for consolidation and virtualization, in-memory databases, applications with large memory footprints and enterprise computing workloads.

"The Sun Fire X4800 is the most powerful and expandable system in Oracle's x86 server line," said Lovell. "This server is optimized for data warehousing applications due to its high performance and scalability, as well as unmatched RAS features." For details of the entire range of Oracle x86 servers, see the grid on page 2.

Oracle Server Blades

Oracle is not resting on its Sun laurels when it comes to blades. It has released several new products in recent times. A new blades chassis is available, for example, with a Direct Current (DC) power option.

At the end of last year, Oracle announced the SPARC T3-1B and Sun Blade X6275 M2 servers, which are aimed at cloud computing and virtualized environments. Two months ago, the company came out with Sun Fire x86 clustered systems, with Xeon 5600 series processors. These new servers set five new world records, four of which were on blades, noted Lovell.

The SPARC T3-1B Server, for example, uses one 16-core 1.65GHz SPARC T3 processor, up to 128 simultaneous processing threads per module, integrated on-chip cryptographic acceleration and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE), and up to 6.4 terabit-per-second I/O throughput. It is optimized to run Oracle Solaris.

"For enterprises running data-intensive applications and requiring massive throughput with virtualization and consolidation capabilities, the SPARC T3-1B server can manage multiple enterprise applications, middleware, web and application tier workloads, especially within Java environments," said Lovell. "This server is optimized for the enterprise to meet the demands of enterprise infrastructure workloads in a highly cost-efficient blade infrastructure."

Another notable blade is the Sun Blade X6270 M2 Server Module. The X6270 M2 is aimed at virtualized application environments where efficiency and flexibility matter. Powered by the six-core Intel Xeon processor 5600 series, the Sun Blade X6270 M2 is designed to be easy to deploy and upgrade. Lovell said it is good for virtualized business applications and enterprise collaboration workloads.

"Both these blades can be combined with the Sun Blade Storage Module, virtualized Network Express Modules, Sun Blade 6000 chassis and Oracle Integrated Lights Out Manager (ILOM) to get an efficient single point management solution under one infrastructure, which helps to reduce complexity and operational expense costs," he said.

Key features include one or two Xeon processors (up to 3.46 GHz), PCIe Express modules, Oracle single system management, 18 DIMM slots and 282Gb/sec I/O bandwidth.

Further blades are included in the grid below.

Oracle SPARC Servers

For the rest of the SPARC line, Oracle and Fujitsu announced the SPARC VII+ processor at the end of last year for its M-series product line. The SPARC Enterprise M-Series servers run Oracle Solaris and deliver high reliability and scalability.

Meanwhile, the successful Sun T series servers continue to do well under Oracle. One of the new generation is the SPARC T3-4 Server with two to four SPARC T3 processors at 1.65 GHz, 16 cores per processor, up to 512GB of memory, up to 16 PCI Express Module slots and expandability with an I/O expansion unit that delivers 4x the I/O throughput of its predecessor, and ILOM. It has been tailored to run Solaris.

"The SPARC T3-4 server provides high throughput with the scalability and reliability mission critical computing demands," said Lovell. "This server represents a safe and reliable platform for enterprises by significantly increasing uptime and reducing unplanned service actions." Oracle also recently announced the SPARC Supercluster, an infrastructure solution for running Oracle database RAC environments. The SPARC Supercluster utilizes new SPARC servers, FlashFire, InfiniBand QDR, Oracle Solaris, and the ZFS Storage Appliance.

Netra Servers

Netra doesn't get too much coverage, as Oracle's telecom oriented server brand. But that doesn't mean it isn't receiving attention. In February, the Netra SPARC T3-1 rackmount server and Oracle's Netra SPARC T3-1BA ATCA blade server, were announced. Both are aimed at the communications industry.

Then, in March, the company announced a carrier-grade Netra SPARC T3-1 2U rack server as well as the Netra SPARC T3-1BA ACTA blade system. This brings the SPARC T3 processor to the communications market segment.

More SPARC-based and Tetra models are included in the grid below.

Oracle Servers at a Glance

X86 Servers Blade Servers SPARC Servers Netra Servers
Target Deployment Oracle’s x86 clustered systems are tightly integrated from applications to disk, addressing enterprise workloads. They are suited for virtualization and consolidation, delivering operational efficiency through high performance and scalability.Oracle's Sun Blade modular systems integrate x86 and SPARC-based servers, storage and networking capabilities to support complex IT workloads. Controlled by a single system management interface, the architecture of the Sun Blade 6000 chassis is suited for virtualization and consolidation, as well as enterprise cloud deployments. Oracle's SPARC servers running Solaris are designed for mission-critical applications that require availability, scalability, and manageability. The SPARC server family includes systems designed for optimal performance on all application tiers, from highly concurrent Web applications to enterprise applications and data warehouses. Oracle's Sun Netra servers are comprised of carrier-grade SPARC, and x86-based blade and rack servers. These servers are designed for network equipment providers (NEPs) and communications service providers (CSPs) running mission critical workloads such as core network infrastructure and media services delivery.
Operating Systems Oracle Linux, Oracle Solaris, Oracle VM, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise, Windows Server, and VMware. Oracle Linux, Oracle Solaris, Oracle VM, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise, Windows Server, and VMware. Oracle Solaris. Oracle Linux, Oracle Solaris, Oracle VM, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise, Windows Server, and VMware.
Servers Sun Fire X2270 M2 Server
Sun Fire X4170 M2 Server
Sun Fire X4270 M2 Server
Sun Fire X4470 Server
Sun Fire X4800 Server
Sun Blade X6270 M2 Server
Sun Blade X6275 M2 Server Module
Sun Blade 6000 Chassis
SPARC T3-1B Server
Sun Blade T6340 Server Module
Sun Blade T6320 Server Module
Sun Blade X6270 M2 Server Module
Sun Blade X6275 M2 Server Module
Sun Blade Storage Module M2
Sun Blade 6000 Virtualized Multi-Fabric 10GbE M2 Network Express Module
Sun Blade 6000 10GbE NEM
Sun Blade 6000 Ethernet Switched NEM 24p 10GbE
SPARC T3-1 Server
SPARC T3-1B Server
SPARC T3-2 Server
SPARC T3-4 Server
Sun SPARC Enterprise T5120 Server
Sun SPARC Enterprise T5140 Server
Sun SPARC Enterprise T5240 Server
Sun SPARC Enterprise T5440 Server
Sun Blade T6320 Server Module
SPARC Enterprise M3000 Server
SPARC Enterprise M4000 Server
SPARC Enterprise M5000 Server
SPARC Enterprise M8000 Server
SPARC Enterprise M9000 Server
External I/O Expansion Unit
Netra SPARC T3-1 Server
Sun Netra T5440 Server
Sun Netra T5220 Server
Sun Netra X4270 Server
Sun Netra X4250 Server
Sun Netra X4200 M2 Server
Sun Netra 6000 Modular System
Sun Netra CT900 Server
Netra SPARC T3-1BA Server
Sun Netra CP3260 ATCA Blade Server
Sun Netra CP3060 ATCA Blade Server
Sun Netra CP3270 ATCA Blade Server
Sun Netra CP3250 ATCA Blade Server
Sun Netra CP3220 ATCA Blade Server
Sun Netra CP3020 ATCA Blade Server

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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This article was originally published on Friday Apr 8th 2011
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