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Oracle Virtual Compute Appliance central to new data center strategy

Oracle is going directly after the core data center server market with the Virtual Compute Appliance X5 and what CTO Larry Ellison calls 'a new strategy' -- competing on price.

In a bid to boost its hardware sales, Oracle is now going directly after the core two-socket server market in the data center with its line of engineered systems, courtesy of a new X5 generation of the Oracle Virtual Compute Appliance and other integrated appliances.

Up to this point, Oracle primarily has focused on higher-end and more specialized integrated systems like Exadata and Exalytics, which Tim Shetler, vice president of Exadata product management at the company, described in an interview as "systems built for one task." To try to break in to the mainstream two-socket server business, Oracle will tap its lesser-known and more general-purpose engineered systems.

"We've never really competed for the center core," said Larry Ellison, Oracle's chairman and CTO, at a press conference in Redwood Shores, Calif., on Jan. 21. Doing so requires a new strategy, Ellison added -- and that strategy centers on the Virtual Compute Appliance (VCA), one of the upgraded systems announced by Oracle as part of the X5 family.

An appliance for all purposes

According to Shetler, the Oracle VCA is designed to do "whatever you want" in data processing. The VCA X5 is scalable from two to 25 compute nodes in a single rack, using Oracle's latest two-socket servers based on Intel Xeon processors. It has a 19.2 TB aggregate memory capacity and supports Windows, Solaris and Linux applications. A new feature that comes with the latest-generation product is a choice between all flash storage and options that mix hard disks and flash devices. That allows some customization in balancing the need for high performance versus storage capacity.

The X5 version of the appliance also runs its internal networking entirely on InfiniBand, which Ellison said is newer, faster and more reliable than rival technologies Ethernet and Fibre Channel. InfiniBand supports guaranteed in-order packet delivery, and Ellison noted that the network built into the appliance is entirely defined by software. "You wire this thing once, and then if you want to add more nodes you reconfigure and expand by changing the parameters in a file," he said. "You wire once and you're done."

The VCA X5 is intended to be paired with Oracle's FS1-2 flash storage system, an upgraded storage area network device that was announced at the same time. The FS1-2 is based on a highly available scale-out architecture -- it supports up to 16 high availability nodes, 912 TB of flash capacity and 2.9 PB of flash and disk combined, and 10:1 data compression. Using the maximum all-flash configuration with the VCA X5, the FS1-2 can handle up to two million I/O operations per second with a balance of 50% reads and 50% writes, Oracle said.

Oracle's new math on server, storage costs

On cost, Ellison compared the VCA X5 to what he considers to be its closest competitor, Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) platform with that company's M4 blade servers. Looking to demonstrate that Oracle has the less expensive machine on both hardware and software, Ellison claimed that the differences in price were $450,000 and $220,000, respectively, for similar configurations of the VCA and UCS systems with 27 servers and 972 processor cores. That is the largest, and most expensive, possible option on the Oracle side.

He did the same kind of comparison between the FS1-2 and EMC's VNX 8000 storage system, showing a price difference of $630,000 for a configuration with 15.6 TB of flash storage and 192 TB of disk. Ellison said that in the two-socket server industry, the way to win is to have the lowest price -- and that having it is Oracle's new mantra.

Oracle has always prided itself more on high performance than low prices, so why the sudden emphasis on cost savings for customers? Ellison said he was "tired of having this argument" about whether or not Oracle is a low-cost vendor. Without disclosing details, Shetler acknowledged that the price of the Oracle Virtual Compute Appliance has decreased -- but he said it and Oracle's other general-purpose engineered systems have always been less expensive than the competition.

"That's really been lost in the shuffle," Shetler said. "People have just generally seen Oracle as more expensive." But, he added, the company offers "a broad range" of systems. "It's not just about the high end."

R "Ray" Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc., said the strategy detailed by Ellison isn't entirely new. The VCA X5 is "the über-appliance Larry's always wanted to deliver," Wang said.

Jessica Sirkin is associate site editor of SearchOracle. Email her at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter: @SearchOracle.

Next Steps

Learn about the release of the last generation of the Oracle Virtual Compute Appliance, the X4-2

Find out more about running the Virtual Compute Appliance in the cloud

Learn about another Oracle engineered system, the Oracle Big Data Appliance

Dig Deeper on Oracle server hardware decisions