Oracle's 'X'-file: It's not 11g R2, not solid-state disks

Oracle CEO to be joined on stage by two HP execs for 'X' announcement

SAN FRANCISCO -- "The X is Coming 09.24.08" scream the banners greeting the 40,000 attendees to this year's Oracle OpenWorld.

Oracle Corp. only has itself to blame for whipping up speculation over the mysterious X, which is to be revealed Wednesday during CEO Larry Ellison's keynote address, titled "Extreme. Performance."

Ellison, who has repeatedly promised a new "database accelerator" to Wall Street, will share the stage with Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Mark Hurd and Ann Livermore, HP's executive vice president for technology solutions.

HP is a major server and storage vendor, and its presence on stage during the keynote has raised speculation that the two companies will announce a data warehousing appliance based on HP hardware that will help speed up Oracle's database.

Others say it could be related to work on tuning Oracle 'Unbreakable' Linux for HP servers for better performance, while still others speculate it could involve speeding up the database through better compression.

One thing is certain: Wednesday's announcement won't involve the upcoming R2 upgrade to 11g, which officials are now saying won't be released until next year.

Though Oracle apparently began contacting companies about participating in 11g R2's beta earlier this year, it's only now "about to start the beta program," said Mark Townsend, Oracle's vice president for database technology. Wednesday's announcement about X "is not related to R2. It's of immediate value."

Townsend declined to talk further about X on Tuesday. However, he did say that 'X' won't involve the use of solid-state disks to boost read-write times over those delivered by conventional spinning-platter-based hard disks, despite Oracle's interest in solid-state technology.

"To make the database 10 or 100 times faster, we have to look at new techniques," Townsend said. "Solid-state disks are something we're very interested in. We are testing that stuff, but we won't have any announcements this week."

On R2, Townsend confirmed that the upgrade will include some new "plug-and-play clustering" capabilities so that new servers added to an Oracle database cluster will be able to automatically install necessary software and otherwise "provision themselves."

That would involve extending Oracle's Automatic Storage Management (ASM) features, as well as Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) and Clusterware. Those features, he acknowledged, won't necessarily put Oracle ahead of other vendors.

Townsend dropped other strong hints about where Oracle won't go in R2 or future releases. Asked whether Oracle had any plans to rework its database engine to adopt a "shared-nothing" architecture -- used by MySQL, IBM and others -- that enables the use of cheap PC servers set up in massive grids, Townsend said he saw "no fundamental value in that."

"The shared-nothing approach is a mythical beast, because nobody does true shared-nothing," he said, arguing that shared-nothing architectures still run into latency issues because they have to pull data through networks off shared hard disks and other storage systems.

He also dismissed, as Oracle has done many times in the past, the growing popularity of the open-source MySQL database, especially among smaller or Web-centric companies.

"MySQL has a big customer base but no revenue associated with it," he said. "People might write some skunk works projects on it, and it's run on a few big Web sites, but MySQL itself will tell you that the database doesn't scale on machines with more than four cores. You can't run a bank or manufacturing plant on MySQL. It's just not possible. Our predominant interest is in enterprise-class capabilities, not necessarily the developer market."

What about in the long term? "No. There are certain things that MySQL can't do in their engine," he said. There are "speed-of-light issues" associated with the scale-out-style grids encouraged by MySQL, and "you can't solve those," he added.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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