Simon Haslam's Oracle Fusion Middleware blog

Oracle Database Appliance X3-2 - Initial Impressions

Today Oracle has released an updated version of the Oracle Database Appliance (ODA), consistently named X3-2 like the other Exa systems. Regular readers will know that I have relatively recently developed an interest in the ODA since Oracle began discussing running components of the Fusion Middleware stack on it,

Here are my initial impressions of the new hardware, based on the publically available technical specifications (e.g. data sheet) and in comparison to the previous version.

A hardware update has been inevitable for some time but I thought this was going to be simple processor/motherboard/chipset refresh as the Intel X5675 processors in the first version of ODA were getting relatively old (important when you license software by core). This indeed is partly what has happened to the ODA hardware, but certainly not the full story.
 

Each ODA server, also called X3-2 and used in Exadata, etc, now has (compared to the first ODA):

  • two 8 core E5-2690 (instead of two 6 core X5675) processors
  • 256GB 1600MHz RAM (instead of 96GB 1333MHz)
  • two 600GB SATA disks (instead of two 500GB)
  • two 10GbE copper interconnect (instead of two 1GbE fibre)

The shared storage improvements are:

  • four 200GB SLC SAS2 SSD (instead of four MLC 73GB) (SLC/MLC thanks to Martin F K - see comments below)
  • twenty 900GB SAS2 10k 2.5" HDD (instead of twenty 600GB 15k 3.5")
  • an optional second identical shared storage expansion unit

There's an entertaining little video Oracle has made (currently on the ODA main page) showing how easy the ODA is to install and run in a highly available configuration* which gives a few more clues about about it too.

Finally, according to the Oracle Store, the list price of the X3-2 is $60k.

Analysis

The only thing that really surprised me about this new update of the hardware is the packaging - look closely at the side of the machines:

 ODA first version:
Oracle Database Appliance - first version

New ODA X3-2:
Oracle Database Appliance X3-2

Previously ODA had been a rather elegant 4U unit (X4370 M2) which had storage at the front and two 2U server units accessible from the rear, rather like a mini blade chassis (and some of you will remember I'm a bit of a blade fan!). Storage connectivity and some of the networking, such as dual 1GbE fibre interconnects, were securely tucked away inside. So installation would have been a matter of plugging in 2 power cables (to different PDUs and phases perhaps, though maybe it wasn't rated for that) and 6 ethernet cables (each server having two 10GbE to your core switches, and one 100M to your management network). This is the minimum connectivity for a 2 node highly available system that includes both network and power redundancy. I did have a hunt around after my initial investigation and I think this may well have been a hardware design unique to Oracle (out of the mainstream vendors at least).

The new ODA X3-2 is clearly two 1U servers stacked on top of a 3U storage array (or two). You can see from the video mentioned above that they are not fixed together (one was nudged at 2:20). Whilst this isn't a problem once they're in a rack it suggests to me that cabling these three components together will be the responsibility of the customer.

The shared storage "shelves" look a bit like a 24 2.5" disk variant of a Sun 2500-M2 array (like a 2530-M2) but I couldn't find it on Oracle's website. The 2530-M2 has 4 SAS2 ports so I assume two could be (redundantly) attached to 2 servers. If so this would be slightly different to the 8 ports/expanders in ODA v1 (see Andy Colvin's excellent blog post).

By looking at the data sheet I expect the configuration of I/O interfaces is as below:


Therefore for X3-2 the customer will also need to connect up 2 interconnect cables and 4 (or 8) SAS cables for a single (double) storage enclosure(s) plus the additional 2 (or 4) power cords. This gives a grand total of 7 network cables, 4 (8) SAS cables and 4 (6) power cables. Now of course data centre administrators are used to this sort of thing but it does dilute the "just plug into the power and network" message a little. Technically it's a shame that the X4370 hardware seems to have gone, but I can only assume that maintaining a custom chassis for a single product, even if it's using standard motherboards and so on, is not very cost effective when Oracle can re-use components being used in other engineered systems (the servers anyway). However my obvious suggestion for Oracle would be to build some kind of sleeve or braces to keep the 3 units locked together - when in or out of a rack - and neatly cable up the interconnects/storage at the factory. They could possibly even throw in a couple of free PDUs :)

The additional storage array is an interesting, if not entirely unexpected, option. My suspicion (never having worked on one) is that a RAC cluster running on 24 Westmere EP cores in the first ODA could easily saturate 24 hard disks, even with 4 as SSDs for redo. With the new 32 cores of Sandy Bridge EP, and slower 10k disks, that scenario must be even more likely. This won't be a concern to customers only partially licensing ODA (and probably buying it for the savings in administration effort), but anyone who fully licences it for database I expect will buy it with the 2 storage arrays without blinking.

Of course the unique feature of ODA is not the hardware itself but Oracle being the single supplier of all hardware and software components (including the Appliance Manager tooling) to run and support such a system.

Conclusions

ODA X3-2 will be a welcome product update for prospective customers. Firstly it brings well specified compute power and the latest generation of Intel processors. Secondly it has additional storage capacity and, when both shelves are used, increased throughput. Finally the X3-2's list price of $60k is almost certainly better value than the $50k original ODA when you consider the increased performance (and as I've mentioned previously probably not that significant compared to the licensing cost anyway).

This also brings me full circle to what other things customers may do with an ODA, and in particular running components of the Fusion Middleware on it. These servers would certainly be my current choice of specification (the 2 socket "sweet spot") for running many middleware products, but I imagine a quite sizeable SOA/OSB/BPM infrastructure (with repository database) running altogether on an a virtualised ODA very nicely indeed.

Anyway, that's enough hardware for a while...

Footnote

* If you're of a fastidious nature have a look again at 2:22 - when the power and network is pulled from one server the ODA apparently carries on regardless... even though there appears to be no RAC interconnect or any SAS cards. Amazing! (OK, so maybe your average video production crew doesn't know much about RAC :D )

 ODA X3-2 rear as captured from promotional video


Comments:

Simon, You're fast! Nice article. About your footnote: The video already existed, seen it before, they used it for ODA v1. Now they smartly replaced the hardware-images... The RAC interconnect is an internal connection, as you said in the beginning : 'tucked away'. The power seems connected to one server, but each power-unit are connected with both servers. But maybe I misunderstood your footnote. Regards, Job.

Posted by Job Oprel on March 06, 2013 at 12:36 PM GMT #

That's a very interesting kit line up they have pulled together now. Starts to look a quite compelling case for many systems.

Posted by Steve Bendall on March 06, 2013 at 12:54 PM GMT #

@Job: Aha - I didn't know that (I'm quite new to ODA)... if so that was clever to reuse the footage. Yes, you spotted the magic power cord too - the chap unplugged the top one then the next moment it's plugged back in again!

Just for clafication though the RAC interconnect must definitely be external (crossover cables) for ODA X3-2.

@Steve: Indeed. Thanks for dropping by :)

Posted by Simon Haslam on March 06, 2013 at 01:16 PM GMT #

Hmmm, turns out the cable in the video with the red boot was only connected to the ILOM serial port... pulling that's not going to go much harm!
X3-2 rear connections
Also the only two proper network cables our DBA managed to connect were both on the same ethernet controller so not the best for redundancy: X3-2 server block diagram
Source: http://www.oracle.com/us/products/servers-storage/servers/x86/x3-2andx3-2l-arch-wp-1686468.pdf

Joking aside, hopefully my little disection of the video has highlighted a few interesting details about the hardware.

Posted by Simon Haslam on March 06, 2013 at 09:25 PM GMT #

one important difference between the ODA-V1 and ODA X3 is that the SSD are now SLC (previous version had MLC). SLC is quite expensive compared to MLC and provide a higher IOPS, r/w throughput and does not suffer from write amplification and over the period of time write deterioration. I would think with the SLCs the data load rate would be consistent and much higher than previous ODA release. regards Martin Francis K

Posted by martin francis kallukalam on March 10, 2013 at 03:47 PM GMT #

Thanks Martin - I hadn't spotted that and have updated the post accordingly.

I saw Kevin Closson (@kevinclosson) and Chen Shapira (@gwenchap) discussing MLC, eMLC vs SLC on Twitter yesterday - an interesting debate in itself; readers might like to look at Computer Weekly: MLC vs SLC: Which flash SSD is right for you? and Network Computing: SSDs In the Data Center: SLC Out, MLC In

Posted by Simon Haslam on March 11, 2013 at 02:39 PM GMT #

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