How DBMS Vendors Admit to an Architectural Limitation: Part 1 – Oracle Exadata

Database vendors don’t usually admit to shortcomings… they protest that they have no shortcomings until the market suggests otherwise… then they make some sort of change that signals an admission. This post will explore three of these admissions: Oracle and the shared-nothing architecture, DB2 on the mainframe and the shared-nothing architecture, and Teradata and in-memory processing.

For years Oracle verbally thrashed Teradata in the market… proclaiming that the shared-nothing architecture was bunk. But in the data warehousing space Teradata acquired a large chunk of the market; and more importantly, they won more business as the size of the data warehouses grew. The reason for this is two-fold: the shared-nothing architecture lets you deliver more I/O bandwidth to the problem… and once you have read the disk it provides scalability to deliver more compute to process complex queries.

Finally Oracle had enough and they delivered Exadata, a storage engine attached to the conventional Oracle RAC that provided shared-nothing I/O bandwidth to the biggest part of the problem… the full file scan of big fact tables. This was an admission that they had been wrong all along.

Exadata was a tack-on… not a fundamental redevelopment of the Oracle database engine. They used the 80/20 rule to quickly get something to market and stem the trickle of Oracle customers who were out of gas on RAC and headed to shared nothing products: Teradata, Netezza, and Greenplum.

This was a very smart move and it worked. Even though the 80/20 approach meant that there were a significant number of queries, the complex queries that needed to process large working sets to execute joins, Exadata solved enough of the problem to keep devout Oracle shops in the church. Only the shops who felt that complex query performance was important enough to warrant the cost of a migration (for an existing DW that had grown up) or the lesser cost of introducing a new technology (for a new DW) would move.

So, while Exadata was a smart move… it is a clear admission that shared-nothing is the right architecture for data warehouses and marts. This admission makes it clear that it is silly to build a warehouse or mart on normal Oracle or on RAC unless you consider your database an inviolable part of a technological creed.

In my opinion selecting a database is an engineering process that does not require orthodoxy… we should be strong enough engineers to pick the better technology and learn it. Being an “Oracle shop” is lazy.

Note that the in-memory technologies provided in Oracle12c are significant… and for warehouses and marts that will fit on a single node, 12c as it matures, will be a fine choice for the orthodox Oracle shop and for others. For bigger data applications you will require Exadata and the limitations that come with it.

This provides a nice transition to the Part 2 post on Teradata and in-memory.

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