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Oracle Enters In-memory Analytics Fray with Exalytics

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Posted February 29, 2012 By Pedro Hernandez     Feedback

Oracle ships in-memory analysis hardware for crunching Big Data, takes on SAP.

Oracle this week extended a lifeline for businesses struggling with Big Data. Its Exalytics appliance, which CEO Larry Ellison previewed and touted at OpenWorld in October 2011, is now officially available.

In-memory analytics appliances rely on massive stores of RAM -- instead of hard disk drives -- enabling analytics and business intelligence applications to quickly plow through huge data sets to expose actionable intelligence and insights.

Oracle's Exalytics In-Memory Machine, boasts four Intel Xeon E7-4800 processors for a total of 40 processing cores and 1 TB of DDR3 RAM (64 x 16 GB DIMMs). Two QDR 40Gbps InfiniBand ports and two 10Gbps Ethernet ports provide connectivity.

Meant to work with Oracle's Business Intelligence Foundation -- which also debuted 87 new features this week -- and TimesTen In-Memory Database for Exalytics, the new hardware allows the former to provide fast reporting and visualizations. The latter gets support for OLAP grouping sets and columnar compression.

According to Oracle, Exalytics can deliver performance gains of 10x to 100x in relational OLAP (ROLAP) reporting. Multidimensional OLAP (MOLAP) modeling performance gets a 79x boost.

Impressive claims, but Oracle's Big Data overtures don't go uncontested.

In-memory Analytics Sparks Dramatics

Since Exalytics was announced in October, Oracle has been locked in a battle over in-memory analytics mindshare with SAP. SAP's HANA has been available since late 2010, and like any incumbent faced by a new challenger, it has had to endure some ribbing from its Redwood Shores rival.

Oracle's laundry list of HANA’s failings boils down to a fundamental flaw in SAP’s approach. Since HANA wasn't strictly engineered around analytics, argues Oracle, it can't compete with Exalytic's purpose-built technology. Oracle also draws attention to its support for any mainstream database versus SAP's insularity.

SAP's answer: "Don't worry about us."

In a blog post, Ken Tsai, director of solution marketing for SAP NetWeaver, argues that one of the best ways to judge HANA's impact on the market is to look at how well it's been received. "In 6 short months, we have more than 200 customers and $200 M in software license revenue – it’s a massive uptake and adoption of the product no matter how you slice it," he writes.

Analysts, meanwhile, are weighing in.

Barry Cousins, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, views HANA as in-memory analytics that works best in all-SAP shops. In his view, Oracle is playing catch-up." Oracle Exalytics still looks like a competitive reaction based on a bundle of legacy technologies," he says.

It’s also crucial not to lose sight of the bigger picture. As engrossing as it is to watch these two industry heavyweights slug it out, innovation in the in-memory analytics market is surfacing from other companies. Recently, firms like Pentaho, SAS, Birst, HP and IBM have been making Big Data strides of their own.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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