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Oracle Vaults into Data Warehouse Appliance Fray

How Oracle’s new data warehouse appliance entry complicates things for just about everyone.

Last week, the already crowded data warehouse (DW) appliance segment got a bit more crowded. Relational database giant Oracle Corp. finally threw its hat into the appliance ring, joining established powers Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), IBM Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc., along with specialty vendors DATAllegro Corp., Dataupia Inc., and Netezza Inc., in what’s rapidly shaping up to be a DW appliance free-for-all.

The only prominent vendor missing, at this point, is Microsoft Corp.

Oracle’s Optimized Warehouse Initiative offers customers a range of pre-built DW appliances that combine its vaunted 11g database with hardware and storage from Dell Computer Corp. and EMC Corp., respectively. That’s the first stage, of course: according to industry scuttlebutt, Oracle has appliance plans in the works with other hardware OEMs—including HP, IBM, and Sun.

The allure of the DW appliance has always been turnkey data warehousing—more or less. Plug in an appliance from any of the appliance purists—DATAllegro, Dataupia, and Netezza (the company that effectively launched the DW appliance model)—and you’ve got a pre-configured, highly optimized DW.

Unlike IBM’s and HP’s DW appliance entries (which run on a combination of their own internal hardware, software, and storage resources), Oracle’s Optimized Warehouse entry uses the same underpinnings—i.e., Dell servers and EMC storage—as DW appliance specialist DATAllegro Corp. But lest DATAllegro and other competitors object that Oracle is shopping a hastily-cobbled-together DW hybrid, officials say Oracle’s Optimized Warehouse Initiative offerings are fully certified, tweaked for performance, and sold and supported as single products with single support contacts.

Drilling down a bit further, Oracle’s DW appliances are powered by Oracle 11g running on top of either Red Hat Linux or Oracle Enterprise Linux, Dell PowerEdge 2950 servers (with four effective processor cores), and Dell/EMC CX3-10 CLARiiON networked storage systems. That’s the base-level configuration. Customers can use this as a template to customize their own appliance configurations, officials say.

Industry watchers like what they see. Far from being a cobbled together or patchwork offering, Oracle’s Optimized Warehouse entry has the stamp of strategy—and extensive planning—aforethought, says Wayne Eckerson, TDWI Research director. "The Oracle initiative … is quite compelling. It’s turning any hardware OEM into an appliance vendor using pre-installed, full-fledged versions of Oracle—and, most importantly, Oracle certifies the configuration and performance so users know exactly what they’re getting and how it should perform," he comments.

Oracle briefed analysts on its appliance plans this summer. According to Eckerson, officials seemed to have all of their data warehousing ducks in a row. "I was impressed with the degree of work they had put into the program—pages and pages of specifications and lots of auditing and validation. This adds another dimension to the appliance market," he indicates.

Oracle’s entry into the appliance space will probably complicate things for just about everyone, but Eckerson doesn’t foresee especially hard times for DW appliance pure-plays such as Netezza. The appliance pure-plays might lack the resources and market reach of HP, Oracle, or IBM, but they nevertheless have a few things going for them. "I still think pure-plays like Netezza have an advantage since they control everything in the box and can fine-tune until the sun goes down," he points out. "[Oracle’s appliance entry] will make a lot of customers stop and think twice about using an unknown pure-play."

Veteran data warehouse architect Mark Madsen, a principal with consultancy Third Nature, see’s Oracle’s move as another validation of the appliance model—but not in the way you might think. It isn’t that the appliance, as such, has any special momentum, Madsen says—just that the success of appliance pure-plays such as Netezza (which recently went public), the spinning off of Teradata (a quasi-appliance specialist) from parent company NCR Corp., and the entry of big OEMs like HP have collectively helped create a buzz of sorts.

"It looks to me like Oracle realized that appliance vendors are applying serious pressure to [its] pricing, and [Teradata] and HP [have a] high-enough profile to push the financial market to ask questions," Madsen comments. "I saw a lot of financial market questions leading up to TD's split from NCR and HP's Neoview announcements." In any case, Madsen thinks Oracle’s new appliance—like all of its appliance brethren—begs a fundamental question.

"The big question is how appliance-y these things really are. [Teradata] takes a lot of support, IBM takes a lot of support, I suspect the same of DATAllegro, and HP is too early to tell but probably similar," he points out. "In other words," Madsen continues, "making it easier to manage the database/hardware combination, but not the vision of self-managing database toasters."

It’s in this respect that relational database vendors such as IBM, Oracle, and Teradata have an undeniable advantage, Madsen argues.

"I think the increased burden of managing anything other than the incumbent database is still a big switching cost," he concludes. "Any new database-like thing has to be significantly less expensive to operate over the long term or offer such great new capabilities that it's easy to justify trying it out. Oracle, IBM and [Teradata] can leverage the existing base. The appliance guys and alternative databases have a big uphill climb."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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