Data warehousing vendors squabble over best way forward with flash memory

Speed, not scalability, will be the buzzword for data warehousing in 2010, as vendors tout ultra-fast flash memory-based appliances. But at what cost?

Scalability has been the buzzword for data warehousing vendors over the past several years, with the standout questions being, how many petabytes of data can I store? And how many servers and nodes?

In 2010, however, the watchword will be speed, as vendors start introducing flash memory storage to get around the longtime bottleneck of reading and writing to disk.

Oracle has already started shipping its flash-enabled Exadata v2 database appliance. Start-up ParAccel said last week that it will bring out a flash appliance this quarter, while Teradata is aiming for a product release by midyear.

"This is the most important hardware development of the decade," said independent analyst Curt Monash. "Other vendors will need to rapidly follow suit."

Oracle touts flash cache

The leaders are taking different approaches. Oracle is using flash memory cards developed by Sun Microsystems that are connected to the Exadata server's motherboard via fast PCI Express (PCIe) interfaces.

The four 96GB cards cache the "hottest" data. They are a key piece of the Exadata's overall architecture for boosting storage I/O, which, until flash came along, had failed to keep pace technically with components such as software and CPUs.

Long a critic of Oracle's database efforts, Monash said he likes what he sees.

"This doesn't mean all of Oracle's marketing claims are correct, or that their legacy DBMS is the best starting point for an overall system design, but with the Exadata v2, they have made some smart choices," said Monash.

Like a proud parent after watching a child score his first goal, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison can't help but crow about the Exadata and its "1 million random I/Os" per second, nor can he hold back from launching barbs at rivals.

"You would've thought IBM, because they do hardware and software, would've come out with a database machine many years ago, it's so obvious," Ellison said during a Q&A on Wednesday.

Ellison also said that Oracle recently made inroads into a longtime Teradata customer after an Exadata v2 was able to handle the same workload in one-eighth the time.

Teradata declined to comment on Ellison's claim. But the Dayton, Ohio-based data warehousing leader respectfully -- but vigorously -- disagrees with Oracle's approach.

"In the OLTP world, that makes sense. But in the data warehousing world, it does not make sense architecturally," argued Scott Gnau, vice president of research and development at Teradata.

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