By John Soat
Since acquiring Sun Microsystems more than five years ago, Oracle has been engineering hardware that provides the optimal platform for running its software. That hardware engineering is demonstrated in its line of standalone servers and its engineered systems—packages of tightly integrated, highly tuned hardware and software—as well as in the Oracle Cloud, where Oracle servers run the company’s online applications and tools.
The latest iteration of that engineering expertise is the new Oracle Server X5-8, a high-performance, high-capacity hardware platform optimized for running Oracle’s most advanced database system. That optimization serves the most compelling trends in enterprise computing—data analytics and real-time processing. Oracle Server X5-8 servers complement and are a natural pairing with Oracle's Engineered Systems for customers who have to run workloads not optimized for Oracle Engineered Systems.
Oracle Server X5-8 employs Intel’s popular x86 microprocessor architecture. The server is fifth-generation Oracle x86 technology, and is based on the Intel® Xeon® processor E7-8895 v3.
The “8” in X5-8 comes from the fact that it features eight CPU sockets, which means it supports eight processors. It’s an ambitious engineering strategy for Oracle, and something of a line in the sand for an industry seemingly intent on limiting its scope.
We’re building enterprise-grade, highly reliable servers that are designed specifically to run Oracle software.
- Josh Rosen, Senior Principal Product Strategy Manager, Oracle
“It’s down to just a couple of players who are building eight-socket servers,” says Josh Rosen, senior principal product strategy manager at Oracle. That’s because servers today are most often marketed, and sold, as baseline components in building IT architectures—“cheap and deep and small and clustered,” says Rosen. That’s not how Oracle approaches it. “We're not trying to build commodity x86 servers, which is what most of the industry is doing," he says. “We’re building enterprise-grade, highly reliable servers that are designed specifically to run Oracle software.”
To be sure, Oracle offers two- and four-socket servers (Oracle Server X5-2 and Oracle Server X5-4) that support a variety of operating systems and platforms (Oracle Linux, Oracle VM, and Oracle Solaris, as well as Red Hat, SuSE, Windows, and VMware) and are optimized for Oracle Database in a clustered configuration, specifically Oracle RAC (Real Application Clusters). Also, it’s worth noting that the Oracle Cloud is constructed using Oracle’s two-socket servers along with Oracle Engineered Systems.
Oracle Server X5-8 is special, though, not only because it boasts performance advantages related to its eight-socket architecture, but also because it’s engineered to make the most of the very advanced features in the latest iteration of the company’s flagship product, Oracle Database 12c.
For example, one of the cutting-edge features of Oracle Database 12c is the Oracle Database In-Memory Option, which makes it possible to load an entire columnar database into a system’s memory. Because the system avoids the overhead of swapping data in and out from storage, database performance is increased considerably.
Oracle Server X5-8 makes the best use of that feature because its “huge memory capacity,” says Rosen—6 TB of memory, 192 DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots—"lets the system memory optimize the entirety of a very large database." In addition, Oracle Server X5-8 provides high “memory bandwidth” capability, which increases the rate at which data can be stored and retrieved from memory.
Oracle is able to build software-specific features into its servers at the hardware-architecture level because of its unique relationship with Intel.
Oracle Server X5-8 represents “one example where having a cluster of small, two-socket servers really isn’t the same as having one larger server with a ton of memory capacity on that single system,” Rosen says. You can’t fit a large database into memory in any single node in a two-socket server cluster, he points out. Instead, it requires complicated database procedures like “sharding” the data or distributing it across the cluster. “It’s really complicated to spread an in-memory database across multiple systems,” Rosen says. That’s why Oracle Database In-Memory “lends itself much better to running on one larger system,” he says.
Another feature of Oracle Database 12c that Oracle Server X5-8 optimizes is the Oracle Multitenant architecture, which lets a database administrator consolidate smaller databases by plugging them into larger “container” databases. That concentration and centralization increases database management efficiency and lowers overall cost. And the fact that Oracle Server X5-8 sports eight processors, which translate to 144 cores and 288 threads, means it has the processing horsepower and depth to support some very ambitious consolidation. Consolidating databases running on many smaller servers onto a larger server can reduce the total number of licenses required by more efficiently using hardware resources and averaging-out peak workloads across many databases.
Working with Intel, Oracle is able to build software-specific features into its servers at the hardware architecture level, Rosen explains. Oracle and Intel engineers have a long history of collaborating together at every level—motherboard, firmware, operating system kernel—even at the database and middleware layer, often referred to as the integrated “stack.” This collaboration provides deep insight to both organizations to form targets for future product innovation.
Oracle Server X5-8’s support for Oracle Database 12c in memory data processing option is aided by new capability in the Intel chipset known as Intel® AVX2, which includes enhancements to the Intel® AVX (Advanced Vector Extensions) instruction set that increase the processor’s SIMD (Single Instruction, Multiple Data) capability. Intel enhanced those instructions specifically “for us to be able to process 16 rows in the database in a single instruction,” Rosen says.
The compute pendulum that has swung so far over to commodity server-based clusters is starting to swing back, Rosen asserts. For one thing, the economics favor it. “The cost of one 8-socket server is almost the same as four two-socket servers,” he points out, which makes it time “to reconsider the idea of scaling up instead of scaling out.”
The work performed by Oracle engineers, in conjunction with their Intel colleagues, results in servers that inherently support RAS: reliability, availability, and serviceability. Oracle Server X5-8, for example, incorporates an eight-point “spoke-and-wheel” CPU configuration that promotes very low latency and power consumption, along with high reliability. In terms of design, the modular X5-8 chassis makes CPU components, fans, I/O ports, and power supplies accessible from the front or back.
That cooperative engineering work also has resulted in Intel delivery of microprocessor features that are optimized uniquely for Oracle software, such as “elastic computing,” which automatically changes processor characteristics based on workload requirements, and Database Smart Flash Cache, which automatically and intelligently trades off between flash and disk storage while the system is processing data.
An Oracle Server X5-8 system with new NVM Express flash technology can use the Database Smart Flash Cache feature of Oracle Database 12c, as a significant performance boost. “Because we own that whole stack we can do features like this,” Rosen says.
Because Oracle Server X5-8 uses Oracle Database In-Memory most effectively, it ultimately helps make data-intensive applications such as analytics and real-time computing approachable and productive enterprise-computing strategies. It’s that close synchronization of database features and hardware performance that positions Oracle Server X5-8 as the optimal x86 server platform for such business-enhancing functions now and going forward.
Oracle’s x86 strategy, as demonstrated in its close partnership with Intel and its continual fine-tuning of its integrated stack, lets the company leverage Oracle software advancements, whether those are its standalone servers, its engineered systems, or its cloud services. “The only way we can deliver the type of performance and the reliability features that we want to provide to Oracle customers,” says Rosen, “is by designing it ourselves.”