HP, Oracle Announce Blade-based DW Appliance Killer

The HP/Oracle appliance is optimized for what officials call the sweet spot of the DW appliance market -- the 1-4 TB range

This week, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Oracle Corp. unveiled a pre-installed, pre-configured, and pre-optimized data warehouse-in-a-box. Think of it as a kind of appliance -- a data warehouse appliance -- that, once plugged-in, provides a turnkey data warehousing environment.

It's not a new idea, but neither, for that matter, is Oracle's Optimized Warehouse (OOW) initiative. Oracle, you'll remember, officially took the DW appliance plunge in September of last year, announcing a range of pre-built systems that bundled its vaunted 11g database with hardware and storage from Dell Computer Corp. and EMC Corp., respectively.

At the time, the industry rumor mill had it that Oracle would soon notch agreements with other hardware OEMs -- including, of course, HP.

Oracle closed that loop on Tuesday, teaming up with HP to launch the HP BladeSystem for Oracle Optimized Warehouse, a bundle that consists of HP hardware (namely, HP's BladeSystem servers and storage) and the ubiquitous Oracle Database. Optimized for what officials call the DW appliance sweet spot -- the 1-4 TB range -- HP's OOW-ready BladeSystem is slated to ship in July. It brings to mind a time when an appliance was an appliance: a big fast database, big fast hardware, and lots of big fast storage all rolled into one. That isn't necessarily the case anymore (see (http://esj.com/business_intelligence/article.aspx?EditorialsID=8960).

The BladeSystem Edge

In a segment where many appliance pure-plays market white-box offerings (or relabeled commodity racks from big-name OEMs), HP credibly claims to have an ace up its sleeve: its best-of-breed BladeSystem architecture boasts integrated power and cooling facilities and bundles a proprietary management tool to help optimize performance, efficiency, and cooling. Among its DW appliance competitors, only IBM Corp. -- which markets a series of Balanced Warehouse appliances based on its own System x and System p hardware -- can credibly claim to rival HP's demonstrable expertise in blades.

"If you think about blades, they are self-contained inside of one of our own physical enclosures. We can put management parameters around the power and cooling inside that box. We can spin down fans [and] we can offload power when it's not being used. We have sensors all throughout this C-7000 [HP's BladeSystem enclosure] that do thermal management on the fly, so we can consistently deliver to the customer the most efficient operation possible," says Rich Palmer, director of technology strategy and planning with HP.

IBM's blade-based appliances don't run Oracle, notes industry veteran Rich Ghiossi, director of BI portfolio marketing with HP. That's another big differentiator, he claims, arguing that a lot of customers simply want Oracle -- and nothing but Oracle -- on an appliance. "Customers have been looking for data warehouse solutions in the context of an appliance-like solution, and the combination [of Oracle and HP] is something we've been mutually asked for a long time," he says. Ghiossi notes that prior to this first-ever branded OOW offering, HP and Oracle collaborated to develop several data-warehouse-in-a-box reference configurations, largely in response to customer demand.

"Oracle and HP have worked together on a whole series of projects as strategic partners in the data warehousing space using reference configurations," he says. "We have about 50 different reference configurations for Oracle's Optimized Warehouse program. This one focused on the 1-4 TB [segment that] is going to provide a new level of capability. From the user's perspective, the ability to have this system with Oracle on it, with HP, preconfigured, ready to start loading data within hours after [it's plugged in] -- that's huge."

Oracle's OOW Coup

Since Oracle kicked off its OOW program last year, adoption has been strong and consistent, claims Willie Hardie, vice-president of database marketing with Oracle. "This has been an area of high demand for a long time now, but certainly over the past few years, we're certainly seeing a lot of uptake. That's why we created this [Oracle Optimized Warehouse] program," he comments.

Prior to its OOW launch, Hardie says, Oracle was a de facto appliance player, working with hardware partners such as Dell, HP, Sun, and others to develop DW reference configurations. The OOW program -- and Oracle's new accord with HP -- simply formalizes this collaboration, Hardie explains. "With this announcement, we've come up with specific configurations that our customers can buy directly from [a large reseller and integrator such as] Avnet, for example. What we're offering is a complete system; all the customer has to do is load the data and run their BI tools," he comments.

Established RDBMS players such as Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft Corp. have come under attack from several appliance upstarts, which like to claim that relational databases simply aren't cut out for analytic workloads. Hardie dismisses this claim, citing not just Oracle 11g's performance track record but Oracle's formidable expertise with respect to HP hardware, too.

"Oracle and HP have a lot of joint customers that go back a couple of years. We have a lot of expedience with working with HP hardware, servers, and storage. These customers have built up their own internal skills and have learned how best to configure data warehouses to meet their requirements. We're taking that expertise and using it [i.e., instantiating it] here," he argues.

HP's Palmer, on he other hand, stresses his company's experience when it comes to tuning Oracle 11g for data warehousing applications. "This is a standard Oracle [11g] database, yes, but [with regard to the] tuning, the configuration, we've finely-tuned it so that the customer when they receive it for a 1-4 TB configuration … it will be optimized for those kinds of workloads," Palmer indicates. "For those customers who have Oracle expertise, they can now take that expertise and use it in this appliance and be able to take advantage of all of these synergies between the hardware and the database."

It's a value proposition that should appeal to both the line of business and IT, Hardie suggests. "Designing data warehouse systems can be very difficult. For IT [i.e., database architects], it's difficult to get the balance of storage and processing capabilities right to [accelerate] these complex summary aggregation-type queries.

"For the business, it's difficult to anticipate the kinds of queries you'll need," he continues, "so we've taken it one stage further: we're taking even more of the risk out of this for you. We're saying, here's a complete package that's going to deliver on your business intelligence data warehousing requirements. It's pre-configured [and] it's pre-optimized for what you need."

HP's Other Appliance

The HP-Oracle Optimized Warehouse doesn't ship with any built-in BI or analytic capabilities. It's a warehouse offering -- built, of course, on the Cadillac of databases -- pure and simple.

In this respect, it bears an uncanny resemblance to another technology offering developed and marketed by HP: NeoView, a quasi-appliance -- it's an all-in-one data warehouse, server, storage, and fault-tolerant system proposition -- that HP kicked off in late 2006 and officially launched a year ago last month (see http://www.tdwi.org/News/display.aspx?ID=8430).

Unlike the new BladeSystem for Oracle Optimized Warehouse, HP's NeoView systems don't run Oracle; instead, they're outfitted with the NonStop database software which HP inherited from Compaq Computer Corp. (which itself inherited NonStop from the former Tandem Computer, 11 years ago).

Doesn't HP's new collaboration with Oracle poach on its NonStop turf? Ghiossi doesn't think so.

"We've had a long-term relationship with Oracle and have done a lot in the data warehousing space with Oracle. With regard to Neoview, we focus that in the enterprise space and really for operational business intelligence," he comments. "The version we're talking about today is really focused on data warehouses and data marts in the 1-4 TB range. We see them as really being complementary."

HP isn't alone. In addition to its DB2-based Balanced Configuration Warehouses, IBM markets an analytic appliance offering in tandem with Sybase Inc. and MicroStrategy. Moreover, there's nothing preventing Oracle and IBM from teaming up to launch a BladeCenter-based (IBM's blade system brand) OOW configuration. Rumors circulated late last year which had Oracle and IBM teaming up to do just that.

Moreover, industry watchers point out, Oracle's OOW initiative is designed to be flexible or hardware-neutral. "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," said TDWI Research director Wayne Eckerson, at the time.