SQLFire, Exalytics, TimesTen, and HANA… a quick comparison


As you may have noticed I’m looking at in-memory databases (IMDB) these days… Here are some quick architectural observations on VMWare‘s SQLFire, Oracle’s Exalytics and TimesTen offerings, and SAP HANA.

It is worth noting up front that I am looking to see how these products might be used to build a generalized data mart or a data warehouse… In other words I am not looking to compare them for special case applications. This is important because each of these products has some extremely cool features that allow them to be applied to application-specific purposes with a narrow scope of data and queries… maybe in a later blog I can try to look at some narrow use-cases.

Further, to make this quick blog tractable I am going to assume that the mart/dw problem to be solved requires more data than can fit on one server node… and I am going to ignore features that let queries access data that resides on disk… in-memory or bust.

Finally I will assume that the SQL dialect supported is sufficient and not drill into details there. I will look at architecture not SQL features…

Simply put I am going to look at a three characteristics:

  • Will the architecture support ad hoc queries?
  • Does the architecture support scale-out?
  • Can we say anything with regards to price/performance expectations?

Exalytics is a smart-aggregate store that sits over an Oracle database to offload aggregate query workload (see my previous post here or the Rittman Mead post here which declares: “Oracle Exalytics uses a specially enhanced version of Oracle TimesTen, Oracle’s in-memory database, to cache commonly used aggregates used in dashboards, analyses and other BI objects.” Exalytics does not support a scale-out shared-nothing architecture but it can scale up by adding nodes with new aggregate data. Queries access data within the aggregate structure and it is not possible to join to data off the Exalytics node… so ad hoc is out. Within these limits, which preclude Exalytics from being considered as a general platform for a mart or warehouse, Exalytics provides dictionary-based compression which should provide around 5X compression to reduce the amount of memory required and reduce the amount of hardware required.

TimesTen can do more. It is a general RDBMS. But it was designed for OLTP. I assume that the reason that Oracle has not rolled it out as a general-purpose data mart or data warehouse has to do with constraints that grow from those OLTP architectural roots. For example, BI queries run longer and require more data than a OLTP query… and even with data in-memory temporary storage is required for each query… and memory utilization is a product of the amount of data required and the amount of time the data has to inhabit memory… so BI queries put far more pressure on an in-memory DBMS. There are techniques to mitigate this… but you have to build the techniques in from the ground up.

I imagine that this is why TimesTen works for Exalytics, though. A OLAP query against a pre-aggregated cube does not graze an entire mart or warehouse. It is contained and “small data” (for my wacky take re: Exalytics and Exadata see here).

TimeTen is not sharded… so scalability is an issue. Oracle gets around this nicely by allowing you to partition data across instances and have the application route queries to the appropriate server. But this approach will not support joins across partitions so it severely limits scalability in a general-purpose mart or warehouse.

SQLFire is a very interesting new product built on top of Gemfire… and therefore mature from the start. SQLFire is more scalable than TimesTen/Exalytics. It supports sharded data in a cluster of servers. But SQLFire has the limitation that it cannot join data across shards (they call them partitions… see here) so it will be hard to support ad hoc queries… They provide the ability to replicate tables to support any sort of joins. If, for example, you replicate small dimension tables to coexist with sharded fact tables all joins are supported. This solution is problematic if you have multiple fact tables which must be joined… and replication of data uses more memory… but SQLFire has the foundation in place to become BI-capable over time.

Performance in an in-memory database comes first and foremost from eliminating disk I/O. All three IMDB product provide this capability. Then performance comes from the efficient use of compression. TimeTen incorporates Oracles dictionary-based “columnar” compression (I so hate this term… it is designed to make people think that Oracle products are sort-of columnar… but so far they are not). Then performance comes from columnar projection… the ability to avoid touching all data in a row to process a query. Neither TimesTen nor SQLFire are columnar databases. Then performance comes from parallel execution. Neither TimesTen nor SQLFire can involve all cores on a single query to my knowledge.

Price comes from compression as well. The more highly compressed the data is the less memory required to store it. Further, if data can be used without decompressing it, then less working memory is required. As noted, TimesTen has a compression capability. SQLFire does not appear to compress data. Neither can use compressed data. Note that 2X compression cuts the amout of memory/hardware required in half or more… 4X cuts it to a quarter… and so on. So this is significant.

Now for some transparency… I started the research for this blog, and composed a 1st draft, last Spring while I was at EMC Greenplum. I am now at SAP working with HANA. So… I will not go into HANA at great length… but I will point out that: HANA fully supports a shared-nothing architetcture… so it is fully scalable; HANA is fully parallel and able to use all cores for each query; HANA fully supports columnar tables so it provides deep compression and the ability to use the compressed data in execution. This is not remarkable as HANA was designed from the bottom up to support both BI and OLTP workloads while TimesTen and SQLFire started from a purely OLTP architectural foundation.


vFabric SQLFire User’s Guide

Oracle Times Ten In-Memory Database Architectural Overview

4 thoughts on “SQLFire, Exalytics, TimesTen, and HANA… a quick comparison

  1. do you think companies are rushing into sap hana too early? im thinking its volatile because what happens if there is a power outage and everything is lost because of in memory computing?

    how do they overcome this?


      • You are right, of course… but the definition of an in-memory database becomes very fuzzy if you lose sight of the architecture that is designed to resolve queries from primary memory most-of-the-time. You find yourself befuddled because HANA will page data to secondary storage when memory is constrained and Oracle will resolve queries from memory when data is all in the SGA. You might even become so confused that Exadata becomes an in-memory database because it has SSDs in the storage layer that will resolve queries without going to disk.


Comments are closed.