Oracle Database Machine: For many, much pricier than first touted

Analysts, competitors say Oracle used overly aggressive assumptions for its pricing

When CEO Larry Ellison unveiled the Oracle Database Machine at its OpenWorld show last week, he made a claim that probably surprised many longtime Oracle watchers and customers: that its new $2.33 million "data warehouse in a rack" was far cheaper than competitors' wares.

According to Ellison, the Database Machine -- a preconfigured rack of 14 new, intelligent Exadata Storage Servers that were also introduced at OpenWorld, along with eight Oracle Database 11g servers, all connected via high-speed InfiniBand pipes -- costs $14,000 per terabyte, less than half the price of comparable products from two leading data warehousing appliance vendors, Teradata Inc. and Netezza Inc.

However, analysts and competitors said Oracle used aggressive assumptions to come up with its price calculations. Using more realistic assumptions that factor in Oracle's penchant both for upselling so-called optional features as well as offering discounts, they said the Database Machine will still prove substantially pricier than competing products for all but large, existing Oracle database users.

"If you're buying from scratch, you'll have to add an extra $3 million," said Randy Lea, Teradata's vice president of product and services marketing. "[Oracle] has done good marketing on their part to confuse the pricing issue."

"Oracle's typical pricing announcements talk about the most scaled-down, vanilla option," said Eliot Colon, president of licensing strategy firm Miro Consulting. "But there is always the option recommended by Oracle, and that always costs a great percentage higher."

Database Machine: Try $5.55M, not $2.33M

An Oracle spokesman declined to comment, instead directing Computerworld to a slide during Ellison's presentation last week (see 28:20 in the keynote video) comparing the Database Machine vs. the Netezza 10100 and the Teradata 2550.

Netezza's 43TB data warehousing appliance lists for $1.25 million, or $29,000 per terabyte; while Teradata's 43TB appliance costs $1.5 million, or $35,000 per terabyte.

Meanwhile, Oracle's offering costs $650,000 for the hardware and $1.68 million for the software, for a total of $2.33 million. A greater total price, but Ellison said with 168TB of storage, the Database Machine's price per terabyte of $14,000 is cheaper than the others.

"We are closer to the price of a disk array," Ellison said. "And the price will continue to go down while performance goes up."

That keynote slide did have an asterisk next to its software price with a small note at the bottom: "Use your existing database licenses and 0% discount on storage server software."

That is a key assumption, said experts such as independent database analyst Curt Monash and Miro Consulting's Colon. Based on Oracle's recommended configuration and price list, customers who do not already own transferrable enterprise Oracle database licenses with the given options would need to pay an additional $3.2 million (see Monash's detailed calculations.)

That increases the price 140%, and makes the price per terabyte of the Database Machine about $33,000 -- higher than Netezza's and just slightly lower than Teradata's.

Netezza, which had blasted the Exadata and Database Machine as products that had been cobbled together "with glue and spit," declined to confirm or dispute the price of its appliance listed by Ellison. But in a statement, Netezza said, "We do believe we will compete very favorably on price/performance with the Oracle Database Machine and Exadata entrants in the market."

Upselling customers to faster, pricier configurations

Teradata's Lea, meanwhile, said that Oracle's price per terabyte applies only if customers buy their Exadata Storage Servers configured with 1TB SATA drives rather than the faster, smaller 300GB Serial-Attached SCSI (SAS) drives.

Oracle charges the same price whichever drives that users pick. That means users who pick the faster SAS drives would pay 333% more per terabyte. That raises the price per terabyte for Oracle users with fully transferable licenses to $46,000, or 31% more than Teradata, and up to $110,000 per terabyte for those lacking any Oracle database licenses, which is 314% more than Teradata's price.

Colon said Database Machine customers shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves steered by Oracle's sales representatives toward the faster but pricier SAS drives.

"There is always the vanilla out-of-the-box solution that Oracle doesn't really recommend," Colon said. "You really have two options: buy what they recommend today, or buy it eventually down the road."

Also, Oracle's price per terabyte is based on the amount of raw storage you buy, rather than on the amount of actual user data users will be able to store. Databases typically need extra space to create indexes of the data, temporary read/write working spaces, and redundant and replicated data for backup purposes.

Some of that space can be reclaimed, said Monash, depending on how efficiently a database compresses the data. Still, a database with raw tables that take up 10TB may actually require 20TB to 30TB of storage overall, even after compression.

Lea claimed that Teradata data warehouses, despite less advanced compression technology than Oracle's, still require less disk overall to deliver peak performance.

"To optimize an Oracle environment, there is a lot of data duplication," Lea said.

What if users are scared off by the Database Server's price and are interested in adding just Exadata Storage Servers one by one?

Ellison didn't disclosed the price during the launch, but Monash estimates, based on Oracle price sheets, that a lone Exadata costs about $150,000, of which about $120,000 is attributable just to the storage software licenses for the 12 drives.

For these reasons, Lea said Teradata has no plans to cut its prices in the wake of the Database Machine announcement.

Colon, meanwhile, said that it was far too early to recommend the Database Machine to anyone.

"This needs to play out a little better to see what unforeseen costs may arise," he said. "Let the announcement and the mood stabilize a bit -- let the pricing become formalized, analyze it, and then maybe make an investment."

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