In his typical manic style, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison shared his vision
of the future of Enterprise computing last week at the OracleWorld
conference in San Francisco.
Always brilliant, and sometimes too far
ahead of his time, Ellison laid the foundation for his version of Grid
computing, the Enterprise Grid Computing architecture.
When you run
one of the world's largest companies you get to re-define common terms,
and Ellison explained that Enterprise Grid Computing is fundamentally
different from the traditional notion of Grid computing. In
traditional Grid computing, a massively-parallel problem is broken-down
into tiny chunks and solved in parallel on thousands of remote
processors (the grid). In Oracle's Enterprise Grid Computing,
computing resources are allocated and de-allocated from a rack of small
Intel-based blade servers.
However, Grid computing is not a
mainframe-like approach. Ellison has reservations about the
robustness and capacity of the large, single server approaches to Oracle
consolidation, claiming that the large mainframe-like UNIX servers are
constrained to 128 CPUs. Ellison also claimed that these large
monolithic systems introduce a single-point-of-failure.
Enterprise Grid Architecture gets around this problem of scale and
reliability by allowing blade servers to be allocated and de-allocated
from the Grid depending upon usage requirements.
This concept of on-demand server allocation and de-allocation is
well-known within Oracle circles, and not a new technology. Savvy
Oracle Real Application Cluster (RAC) DBAs know that Oracle instance
servers can be allocated and removed from a RAC cluster in real-time,
providing extreme flexibility and scalability (For a complete
description of this technique, see the Ault & Tumma book,
Oracle Application Server administrators (formerly Oracle9iAS) can also
add and remove web cache servers and HTTP servers from their
architecture when processing demands change.
Ellison notes that the
movement to his vision of Enterprise Grid Computing is economic, and
noted the high speed and low-cost of the 64-bit Intel Itanium
processors. Abandoning his endorsements of Sun Microsystems back
in 1002, Ellison embraced the Intel solution, noting that small (@CPU,
2-gig RAM) server blades are cheap ($2,500) and are a better buy than
the proprietary UNIX servers.
In Oracle's vision, a single
all-encompassing monitor will govern the use of blade servers, tracking
both current and historical usage patterns. The promise of a
proactive monitor was very well-received by those in the Oracle
community who want to be able to track repeating patters of usage over
time and allocate just-in-time computing resources.
Ellison also made
the important point that current "server farms" are incredibly wasteful,
with hundreds of servers having over allocated CPU and RAM to handle
sporadic spikes in processing needs.
Will the market
It seems that all of Ellison's points were firm
and well understood and most industry analysts agree that the immediate
future of large computer systems will be with server consolidation.
However, the vendors of the large servers (32 CPU, 64-gig RAM)
pointed-out several flaws in the logic:
1 - Mainframe-like processors
can be configured to avoid the single-point-of-failure problem.
Vendors note that fault-tolerant components can be used to make a single
server as reliable as a distributed scheme. They also note that
Oracle's own failover tools (Data Guard and Oracle Streams) can make
systems resilient to hardware failure.
2 - Better on-demand CPU and
RAM allocation - The critics say that the mainframe-like UNIX behemoths
provide internal resource allocation that will be more efficient than a
3 - Better scalability - Critics noted that the
server blade approach to Grid Computing allocated independent units of
dyadic or quadratic processors, making Oracle Parallel Query less
efficient. A 32 CPU monolith will be able to process a large
Oracle table far faster than a Grid of small independent processors.
In sum, Ellison's visionary plan is based on well-accepted economic and
scalability principles, but there is disagreement on whether Grid
computing will be accepted over the server consolidation approach.
Only time will tell whether Ellison has a hot technology. If his
vision of Enterprise Grid Computing play-out according to his vision,
Oracle will be in a unique position to command the large-scale database
industry, dramatically increasing their market share. If not,
Oracle10g still has many other important features that will be embraced
by their loyal client base.