Co-processors and database machines: Intel, Netezza, and Teradata

Intel recently announced a change in direction regarding the use of special hardware co-processing to support RAID. This change is relevant to vendors of data warehouse appliances like Netezza, and to a smaller extent, Teradata, who both use co-processors to offload processing. A report on the Intel announcement is here: . In short, Intel says that because multi-cores provide so much compute for so little cost it just does not make sense to build a special co-processor to support the RAID function.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with Netezza and Teradata. The answer is that both companies have built database machines that use co-processors more-or-less. And Intel’s conclusion that multi-cores obsolete co-processors significantly affects their value proposition to the market.

In the case of Netezza the significance is considerable. Netezza conceived the FPGA-based architecture when compute was expensive relative to I/O. A FPGA provided a way to add compute power at a low-cost point. But according to Intel this changed as multi-core technology matured. Further, as  the Intel processing line adds even more cores, the value of a FPGA co-processor becomes less still.

In the case of Teradata the issue is more manageable. The original Teradata Y-Net and their current BYNET interconnect offloads the merge process from the CPU to the interconnect. Back when Teradata ran on 8086 cores from Intel this was significant and it formed a cornerstone of Teradata’s value proposition. Today, the value of BYNET is diminished and one could imagine Teradata dropping it altogether sometime in the future for a less proprietary network fabric.

Please do not think that I am suggesting that multi-cores make either Teradata or Netezza obsolete. They are both formidable technologies. But multi-cores will reduce the price/performance advantage that co-processing once afforded in favor of database servers that do not use co-processing like Exadata, Greenplum, and DB2.

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