IBM calls new DB2 grid feature an Oracle 'Exadata-killer'

Unveils new clustering feature on eve of Oracle's OpenWorld user conference

On the eve of Oracle Corp.'s OpenWorld user conference, IBM today unveiled a new clustering feature that it says will help its flagship DB2 database trump Oracle Corp.'s rival product on scalability, speed and price.

According to IBM, the new pureScale feature will enable companies to "scale out" their DB2 clusters without sacrificing performance the way Oracle's eight-year-old Real Application Clusters (RAC) technology does.

Available in December for IBM Power 550 Express and Power 595 servers running Unix, IBM and Linux, pureScale gives IBM a weapon to battle Oracle's heavily-hyped Exadata Database Machine.

"This is an Exadata-killer, in the sense that it is much more economical and scalable," said Bernie Spang, director of product strategy for IBM's information management division, in an interview.

Merv Adrian, an analyst at IT Market Strategy, calls the pureScale announcement a "well-timed shot across the bow."

Oracle hasn't shown off many Exadata customer wins since the product was launched a year ago, said Adrian. That's true in part because it had to quickly pull Hewlett-Packard Co. servers out of Exadata in favor of hardware from Sun Microsystems Inc., which Oracle has agreed to acquire.

"The likelihood is that it will be a head-to-head battle" between Oracle and IBM, he said. "We should see some shots fired back and forth as the two firms jockey for position."

IBM did not disclose the price of pureScale, which calls for customers to deploy power-based servers in a cluster using high-speed Infiniband networking technology. One or two servers in the pureScale cluster act as "traffic cops" that control the grid and make it appear as one node to all applications connected to it, said Spang.

The traffic cop servers are very efficient, says IBM, because of a technology called Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA), which lets DB2 database servers directly query the cache memory of the pureScale traffic control servers as if it were on their own motherboards, going around the pureScale server's CPU in the process, said Handy.

According to IBM tests, RDMA allows 64-node pureScale-based clusters to waste less than 10% of their processing power on grid-related overhead. The number increases to about 20% for 100-node clusters.

That, claims IBM, is much more efficient than Oracle's RAC technology today. First introduced in 2001, RAC remains inefficient and doesn't scale out well, according critics.

Oracle is expected to announce enhancements to RAC at the OpenWorld conference in San Francisco next week.

IBM will also let pureScale customers who have alternating workloads -- such as those who a lot of month-end accounting to do -- pay for server capacity on demand.

According to Handy, the on-demand option would work like this: Companies would buy enough server and database licenses to satisfy their regular workloads and then install some DB2 servers that they would use only sporadically. IBM would charge users a small fraction of the normal cost for the hardware and licenses upfront, and then charge the users a daily rate whenever they ran the extra DB2 databases, said Handy.

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