By John Soat
It’s a two-way street, literally and figuratively. Intel’s and Oracle’s respective development centers in Silicon Valley are easily accessible by each other’s staff. Their proximity is symbolic of a long-standing, mutually beneficial relationship that continues to push enterprise computing forward. “We have a Santa Clara campus and they have a Santa Clara campus. We’re just a mile away from each other,” says Josh Rosen, senior principal product strategy manager at Oracle.
Oracle recently debuted two new hardware platforms, Oracle Server X5-4 and Oracle Server X5-8. They’re the latest x86-based servers developed with engineering support from Intel and optimized to run Oracle Database. They’re a manifestation of an engineering partnership that has helped Oracle continue to expand its hardware offerings, including its Engineered Systems—tightly integrated, highly customized hardware and software machines—and even the Oracle Cloud, which is built using Oracle-optimized servers based on Intel’s x86 chip architecture.
The depth of that partnership may surprise you. “Our relationship with Intel is unique,” Rosen says. Oracle engineers and their Intel colleagues work together at every level of the integrated stack—from hardware to operating system to software, including firmware, databases, middleware, and applications. “Because we’re working with them at all levels, we’re able to do things other competitors aren’t doing,” Rosen says.
Our relationship with Intel is unique. Because Oracle engineers and their Intel colleagues work together at every level of the integrated stack, we’re able to do things other competitors aren't doing.
—Josh Rosen, Senior Principal Product Strategy Manager, Oracle
The most recent example is a new Intel processor known as the Intel Xeon E7-8895 v3. It incorporates a cutting-edge feature that Oracle calls “elastic computing.” It enables the Intel processor to accommodate varying workloads by dynamically changing its performance characteristics when needed.
Due to constraints dictated by heat and power, Intel no longer engineers a processor that simultaneously maximizes cores, frequency, and cache size. Instead, Intel segments its processors into categories according to intended workload. The former approach forces data centers to be cluttered with a multitude of server configurations, Rosen explains. “Now we can simplify inventory management by having a single processor that takes on the personality of other processors and adapts to various workloads.”
The Intel Xeon E7-8895 v3 processor powers Oracle Server X5-8, which capitalizes on the new feature because of engineering work done to the server’s Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) and the Oracle operating system’s kernels. “Part of the Intel-Oracle relationship is about demonstrating engineering strength—doing things differently,” Rosen says.
Another compelling aspect of the new Oracle Server X5-8 is its unique eight-socket design, an x86 server architecture that few vendors offer (most prefer to market commodity two-socket servers). In the case of Oracle Server X5-8, its purpose is to run the latest version of Oracle’s flagship database system, Oracle Database 12c, at optimal capacity and effectiveness.
Oracle Database 12c’s advanced features, such as the Oracle Database In-Memory option, lets the system load an entire database into memory for real-time analytics. Also, Oracle Multitenant Architecture runs multiple pluggable databases within a single container database that Oracle Server X5-8 can exploit. Specifically, Oracle Server X5-8’s extensive memory capacity and bandwidth can encompass very large databases, and its processing horsepower can support the considerable database consolidation enabled by Oracle Database 12c.
As with the elastic computing feature, Oracle has been able to “productize” other Intel developments, such as NVM Express, an industry standard for running Flash storage technology with extremely low latency and high bandwidth that Intel has improved upon for enterprise use. Oracle, in turn, developed a feature called Oracle Database Smart Flash Cache, which intelligently switches between speedy Flash and low-cost hard-disk storage when running database systems—a capability enabled by Intel’s NVM Express technology.
Cooperative practices demonstrate the figurative two-way street. For instance, Intel uses Oracle’s eight-socket platform as a “validation platform” in the development of its eight-socket processors. “They use our systems to find bugs in the silicon and fix them—we work together to do that,” Rosen says.
It’s a pragmatic, productive relationship with demonstrable long-term benefits for both companies. “We have the ability to influence Intel’s roadmap, and to make sure that we can then turn those new features into Oracle products,” Rosen says. “And we keep doing that.”