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.

Related Posts

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Other References

Part 3: A Quick Follow-on on Parallel Databases

In the thread I’m now working on (Part 1, Part 2) I’ve talked about Exadata and a criteria for evaluating split architectures. It is worth quickly talking about homogeneous systems with no split like Teradata or Greenplum or HANA… systems with no separate query-capable top end.

Every parallel shared-nothing DBMS has big pipes to move data between nodes… and they have all of the advanced intelligence to reduce the amount of data moved both between nodes within a query.

So if we compare Exadata to a split system with an RDBMS and Hadoop it fairs very well. But if we compare Exadata to Teradata or Greenplum or HANA… then the bottlenecks in Exadata look more severe. Exadata may tie, or occasionally win, in a POC against these homogenous competitors when the queries fit their architectural sweet spot. But if any queries are included that expose the bottlenecks or the limitations in query push-down… Exadata’s weak split architecture shows.

Next: Part 4

Part 2: Evaluating Exadata… Does it stack up with RDBMS-Hadoop systems?

In my blog yesterday (Part 1) I suggested that we could evaluate RDBMS-Hadoop integration architecture using three criteria:

  1. How parallel are the pipes to move data between the RDBMS and the parallel file system;
  2. Is there intelligence to push down predicates; and
  3. Is there more intelligence to push down joins and other relational operators?

But Exadata is a split RDBMS with a parallel file system backing it… how does it measure up by these criteria?

There are effective parallel pipes between the Oracle RAC RDBMS and the Exadata Storage Subsystem… so Exadata passes the first test. Further, Exadata is smart about pushing scan and projection both down to the Storage layer.

Unfortunately there is a fairly severe imbalance between the number of nodes on the RAC side and the number of nodes on the Storage side and this creates a bottleneck. We cannot give Exadata full marks here… but as far as parallel pipes goes it stacks up pretty well.

The ability to push down predicates goes a long way towards solving this as the predicate push-down reduces the amount of data that has to move over the bottleneck. But in every data warehouse there will be queries that return lots of rows from the early execution steps… and Exadata cannot join data in the Storage Subsystem so it tries to pull data up sparingly and push down semi-joins whenever possible… it just cannot be done in every case (Note: in Exadata POCs Oracle will try to ensure that no queries are included that pull lots of data up to the RAC layer… and competitors will try to include queries that expose this weakness…).

So… Oracle also includes some intelligence to push some data down to reduce data movement. There is no way to choose to move data from the RAC layer to the Storage Subsystem and execute the query there… the Storage Subsystem can only scan and project… so again we cannot give Exadata full marks… but it is pretty smart as you will see when we start looking at alternative implementations.

Finally, Exadata cannot effectively split a single query plan across both layers… so no marks at all here.

So Exadata is pretty good… but it has weak spots that will be severe for an important set of DW queries in any implementation.

Now, on to the Hadoop implementations… to Part 3

HANA, BLU, Hekaton, and Oracle 12c vs. Teradata and Greenplum – November 2013

Catch Me If You Can (musical)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would like to point out a very important section in the paper on Hekaton on the Microsoft Research site here. I will quote the section in total:


An analysis done early on in the project drove home the fact that a 10-100X throughput improvement cannot be achieved by optimizing existing SQL Server mechanisms. Throughput can be increased in three ways: improving scalability, improving CPI (cycles per instruction), and reducing the number of instructions executed per request. The analysis showed that, even under highly optimistic assumptions, improving scalability and CPI can produce only a 3-4X improvement. The detailed analysis is included as an appendix. 

The only real hope is to reduce the number of instructions executed but the reduction needs to be dramatic. To go 10X faster, the engine must execute 90% fewer instructions and yet still get the work done. To go 100X faster, it must execute 99% fewer instructions. This level of improvement is not feasible by optimizing existing storage and execution mechanisms. Reaching the 10-100X goal requires a much more efficient way to store and process data. 

This is important because it confirms the difference in a Level 3 and a Level 2 columnar implementation as described here. It is just not possible for a Level 2 implementation with a row-based join engine to achieve the performance of a Level 3 implementation. This will allow the Level 3 implementations: HANA, BLU, Hekaton, and Oracle 12c to distance themselves from the Level 2 products: Teradata and Greenplum; by more than 10X… and this is a very significant advantage.

Related articles

More on the Oracle 12c In-Memory Option

English: a human brain in a jar
In-memory DBMS in a jar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently listened to a session by Juan Loalza of Oracle on the 12c In-memory option. Here are my notes and comments in order…

There is only one copy of the data on disk and that is in row format (“the column format does not exist on disk”). This has huge implications. Many of the implications come up later in the presentation… but consider: on start-up or recovery the data has to be loaded from the row format and converted to a columnar format. This is a very expensive undertaking.

The in-memory columnar representation is a fully redundant copy of the row format OLTP representation. Note that this should not impact performance as the transaction is gated by the time to write to the log and we assume that the columnar tables are managed by MVCC just like the row tables. It would be nice to confirm this.

Data is not as compressed in-memory as in the hybrid-columnar-compression case. This is explained in my discussion of columnar compression here.

Oracle claims that an in-memory columnar implementation (level 3 maturity by my measure see here) is up to 100X faster than the same implementation in a row-based form. Funny, they did not say that the week before OOW? This means, of course, that HANA, xVelocity, BLU, etc. are 100X faster today.

They had a funny slide talking about “reporting” but explained that this is another word for aggregation. Of course in-memory vector aggregation is faster in-memory.

There was a very interesting discussion of Oracle ERP applications. The speaker suggested that there is no reporting schema for these apps and that users therefore place indexes on the OLTP database to provide performance for reporting and analytics. It was suggested that a typical Oracle E-Business table would have 10-20 indexes on it and it was not unusual to see 30-40 indexes. It was even mentioned that the Siebel application main table could require 90 indexes. It was suggested that by removing these indexes you could significantly speed up the OLTP performance, speed up reporting and analytics, cure cancer and end all wars (OK… they did not suggest that you could cure cancer and end war… this post was just getting a little dry).

The In-memory option is clusterable. Further, because a RAC cluster uses shared disk and the im-memory data is not written to disk there is a new shared-nothing implementation included. This is a very nice and significant architectural advance for Oracle. It uses the direct-to-wire infiniband protocol developed for Exadata to exchange data. Remember when Larry dissed Teradata and shared-nothingness… remember when Larry dissed in-memory and HANA… remember when Teradata dissed HANA as nonsense and said SAP was over-reacting to Oracle. Gotta smile :).

Admins need to reserve memory from the SGA for the in-memory option. This is problematic for Exadata as the maximum memory on a RAC node is 256GB…  My bad… Exadata X3-8 supports 2TB of memory per node… this is only problematic for Exadata X3-2 and below… – Rob

It is possible to configure a table partition into memory while leaving other partitions in row format on disk.

It is suggested again that analytic indexes may be dropped to speed up OLTP.

The presenter talked about how the architecture, which does not change the row-based tables in any way, allows all of the high-availability options available with Oracle to continue to exist and operate unchanged.

But the beautiful picture starts to dull a little here. On start-up or first access… i.e. during recovery… the in-memory columnar data is unavailable and loaded asynchronously from the row format on disk. Note that it is possible to prioritize the order tables are loaded to get high-priority data in-memory first… a nice feature. During this time… which may be significant… all analytic queries are run against the un-indexed row store. Yikes! This kills OLTP performance and destroys analytic performance. In fact, the presenter suggested that maybe you might keep some indexes for reports on your OLTP tables to mitigate this.

Now the story really starts to unravel. Indexes are required to provide performance during recovery… so if your recovery SLA’s cannot be met without indexes then you are back to square one with indexes that are only used during recovery but must be maintained always, slower OLTP, and the extra requirement for a redundant in-memory columnar data image. I imagine that you could throttle some reports after an outage until the in-memory image is rebuilt… but the seamless operations during recovery using standard Oracle HA products is a bit of a stretch.

Let me raise again the question I asked in my post last week on this subject (here)… how are joins processed between the row format and the columnar format. The presenter says that joins are no problem… but there are really only two ways… maybe three ways to solve for this:

  1. When a row-to-columnar join is identified the optimizer converts the columnar table to a row form and processes the join using the row engine. This would be very very slow as there would be no indexes on the newly converted columnar data to facilitate the join.
  2. When a row-to-columnar join is identified the optimizer pushes down aggregation and projection to the columnar processing engine and converts the columnar result to a row form and processes the join using the row engine. This would be moderately slow as there would be no indexes on the newly converted columnar data to facilitate the join (i.e. the columnar fact would have no indexes to row dimensions or visa versa).
  3. When a row-to-columnar join is identified the optimizer converts the row table to a columnar form and processes the join using the columnar engine. This could be fast.

Numbers two and three are the coolest options… but number three is very unlikely due to the fact that columnar data is sharded in a shared-nothing manner and the row data is not… and number two is unlikely because if it were the case Oracle would surely be talking about it. Number one is easy and the likely state in release 1… but these joins will be very slow.

Finally, the presenter said that this columnar processing would be implemented in Times Ten and then in the Exalytics machine. I do not really get the logic here? If a user can aggregate in their OLTP system in a flash why would they pre-aggregate data and pass it to another data stovepipe? If you had to offload workload from your OLTP system why wouldn’t you deploy a small, standard, Oracle server with the in-memory option and move data there where, as the presenter suggested, you can solve any query fast… not just the pre-aggregated queries served by Exalytics. Frankly, I’ve wondered why SAP has not marketed a small HANA server as an Exalytics replacement for just this reason… more speed… more agility… same cost?

There you have it… my half a cents… some may say cents-less evaluation.

I will end this with a question for my audience (Ofir… I’ll provide a link to your site if you post on this…)… how do we suppose the in-memory option supports bulk data load? This has implications for data warehousing…

Here, of course, is the picture I should have used above… labeled as the in-memory database of your favorite vendor:


Oracle 12c IMDB Announcement at OOW13

SAP4OOWI changed the picture to show you the billboard SAP bought on US101N right across from the O HQ…

– Rob

Larry Ellison announced a new in-memory capability for Oracle 12c last night. There is little solid information available but taken at face value the new feature is significant… very cool… and fairly capable.

In short it appears that users have the ability to pin a table into memory in a columnar format. The new feature provides level 3 (see here) columnar capabilities… data is stored compressed and processed using vector and SIMD instruction sets. The pinned data is a redundant copy of the table in-memory… so INSERT/UPDATE/DELETE and data loads queries will use the row store and data is copied and converted to the in-memory columnar format.

As you can imagine there are lots of open questions. Here are some… and I’ll try to sort out answers in the next several weeks:

  1. It seems that data is converted row-to-columnar in real-time using a 2-phased commit. This will significantly slow down OLTP performance. LE suggested that there was a significant speed-up for OLTP based on performance savings from eliminating indexes required for analytics. This is a little disingenuous, methinks… as you will most certainly see a significant degradation when you compare OLTP performance without indexes (or with a couple of OLTP-centric indexes) and with the in-memory columnar feature on to OLTP performance without the redundant copy and format to columnar effort. So be careful. The use case suggested: removing analytic indexes and using the in-memory column store is solid and real… but if you have already optimized for OLTP and removed the analytic indexes you are likely to see performance drop.
  2. It is not clear whether the columnar data is persisted to disk/flash. It seems like maybe it is not. This implies that on start-up or recovery data is read from the row store on-disk tables and logs and converted to columnar. This may significantly impact start-up and recovery for OLTP systems.
  3. It is unclear how columnar tables are joined to row tables. It seems that maybe this is not possible… or maybe there is a dynamic conversion from one form to another? Note that it was mentioned that is possible for columnar data to be joined to columnar data. Solving for heterogeneous joins would require some sophisticated optimization. I suspect that when any row table is mentioned in a query that the row join engine is used. In this case analytic queries may run significantly slower as the analytic indexes will have been removed.
  4. Because of this and of item #2 it is unclear how this feature plays with Exadata. For lots of reasons I suspect that they do not play well and that Exadata cannot use the new feature. For example, there is no mention of new extended memory options for the Exadata appliance… and you can be sure that this feature will require more memory.

There was a new hardware system announced that uses this in-memory capability… If you add all of this up it may be that this is a system designed to run SAP applications. In fact, before the presentation on in-memory there was a long (-winded) presentation of a new Fujitsu system and the SAP SD benchmark was specifically mentioned. This was not likely an accident. So… maybe what we have is a counter to HANA for SAP apps… not a data warehouse at all.

As I said… we’ll see as the technical details emerge. If the architectural constraints 1-4 above hold then this will require some work for Oracle to compete with HANA for SAP apps or for data warehouse workloads…

Thoughts on Oracle 12c…

Plugs (Photo credit: Brad.K)


Here are some quick thoughts on Oracle 12c…


First, I appreciate the tone of the announcements. They were sober and smart.


I love the pluggable database stuff. It fits into the trends I have discussed here and here. Instead of consolidating virtual machines on multi-core processors and incurring the overhead of virtual operating systems Oracle has consolidated databases into a single address space. Nice.


But let’s be real about the concept. The presentations make it sound like you just unplug from server A and plug into server B… no fuss or muss. But the reality is that the data has to be moved… and that is significant. Further, there are I/O bandwidth considerations. If database X runs adequately on A using 5GB/sec of read bandwidth then there better be 5GB/sec of free bandwidth on server B. I know that this is obvious… but the presentations made it sound magic. In addition 12c added heat maps and storage tiering… but when you plug-in the whole profile of what is hot for that server changes. This too is manageable but not magic. Still, I think that this is a significant step in the right direction.


I also like the inclusion of adaptive execution plans. This capability provides the ability to change the plan on-the-fly if the execution engine determines that the number of rows it is seeing from a step differs significantly from the estimate that informed the optimizer. For big queries this can improve query performance significantly… and this is especially the case because prior to 12c Oracle’s statistics collection capability was weak. This too has been improved. Interestingly the two improvements sort of offset. With better statistics it is less likely that the execution plan will have to adapt… but less likely does not mean unlikely. So this feature is a keeper.


I do not see any of the 12c major features significantly changing Oracle’s competitive position in the data warehouse market. If you run a data warehouse flat-out you will not likely plug it elsewhere… the amount of data to move will be daunting. The adaptive execution plan feature will improve performance for a small set of big queries… but not enough to matter in a competitive benchmark. But for Oracle shops adaptive execution is all positive.


Who is How Columnar? Exadata, Teradata, and HANA – Part 2: Column Processing

In my last post here I suggested that there were three levels of maturity around column orientation and described the first level, PAX, which provides columnar compression. This apparently is the level Exadata operates at with its Hybrid Columnar Compression.

In this post we will consider the next two levels of maturity: early materialized column processing and late materialized column processing which provide more I/O avoidance and some processing advantages.

In the previous post I suggested a five-column table and depicted each of those columns oriented on disk in separate file structures. This orientation provides the second level of maturity: columnar projection.

Imagine a query that selects only 4 of the five columns in the table leaving out the EmpFirst column. In this case the physical structure that stores EmpFirst does not have to be accessed; 20% less data is read, reducing the I/O overhead by the same amount. Somewhere in the process the magic has to be invoked that returns the columns to a row orientation… but just maybe that overhead costs less than the saving from the reduced I/O?

Better still, imagine a fact table with 100 columns and a query that accesses only 10 of the columns. This is a very common use case. The result is a 9X reduction in the amount of data that has to be read and a 9X reduction in the cost of weaving columns into rows. This is columnar projection and the impact of this far outweighs small advantage offered by PAX (PAX may provide a .1X-.5X, 10%-50%, compression advantage over full columnar tables). This is the advantage that lets most of the columnar databases beat Exadata in a fair fight.

But Teradata and Greenplum stop here. After data is projected and selected the data is decompressed into rows and processed using their conventional row-based database engines. The gains from more maturity are significant.

The true column stores read compressed columnar data into memory and then operate of the columnar data directly. This provides distinct advantages:

  • Since data remains compressed DRAM is used more efficiently
  • Aggregations against a single column access data in contiguous memory improving cache utilization
  • Since data remains compressed processor caches are used more efficiently
  • Since data is stored in bit maps it can be processed as vectors using the super-computing instruction sets available in many CPUs
  • Aggregations can be executed using multiplication instead of table scans
  • Distinct query optimizations are available when columnar dictionaries are available
  • Column structures behave as built-in indexes, eliminating the need for separate index structures

These advantages can provide 10X-50X performance improvements over the previous level of maturity.


  • Column Compression provides approximately a 4X performance advantage over row compression (10X instead of 2.5X). This is Column Maturity Level 1.
  • Columnar Projection includes the advantages of Column Compression and provides a further 5X-10X performance advantage (if your queries touch 1/5-1/10 of the columns). This is Column Maturity Level 2.
  • Columnar Processing provides a 10X+ performance improvement over just compression and projection. This is Column Maturity Level 3.

Of course your mileage will vary… If your workload tends to touch more than 80% of the columns in your big fact tables then columnar projection will not be useful… and Exadata may win. If your queries do not do much aggregation then columnar processing will be less useful… and a product at Level 2 may win. And of course, this blog has not addressed the complexities of joins and loading and workload management… so please do not consider this as a blanket promotion for Level 3 column stores… but now that you understand the architecture I hope you will be better able to call BS on the marketing…

Included is a table that outlines the maturity level of several products:


Columnar Maturity Level




 Columnar tables, Row Engine


 PAX only


 Full Columnar Support


 Columnar tables, Row Engine


 BLU Hybrid
SQL Server


 I think… researching…


 Full Columnar Support


 Full Columnar Support


 No Columnar Support


 I think… researching…

Who is How Columnar? Exadata, Teradata, and HANA – Part 1: Column Compression

Basic Table

There are three forms of columnar-orientation currently deployed by database systems today. Each builds upon the next. The simplest form uses column-orientation to provide better data compression. The next level of maturity stores columnar data in separate structures to support columnar projection. The most mature implementations support a columnar database engine that performs relational algebra on column-oriented data. Let me explain…

Imagine a simple table with 1M rows… with the schema and the first several rows depicted in Figure 1. Conceptually, a row-orientation deploys data on disk and in-memory as depicted in Figure 2 and a column-orientation deploys data on disk and in-memory as depicted in Figure 3. The actual deployment may be significantly different, as we will see.

Note that I am going to throw out some indicative numbers around compression. I will suggest that applying compression to rows will provide from 1.5X to 3.5X compression with and average of 2.5X… and that applying compression to columns provides from 3X compression to 50X compression with the average around 10X. These are supportable numbers but the compression you see for any specific data set will vary.

A row oriented block

There are two powerful compression techniques that individually or combined provide most of the benefits: dictionary-encoding and run-length encoding. For the purposes of this blog I will describe only dictionary-encoding; and I will do an injustice to that by explaining it only briefly and conceptually… just enough that you get the idea.

Five column oriented blocks

Further compression is possible by encoding runs of similar values to a value plus the number of times it repeats so that the bit stream 0000000000000000 could be represented as 01111 (0 occurs 24 times).

You can now also start to see why column-orientation compresses better that a row-orientation. In the row block above there is little opportunity to encode whole rows in a dictionary… the cardinality of rows in a table is too high (note that this may not be true for a dimension table which is, in-effect, a dictionary). There is some opportunity to encode the bit runs in a row… as noted, you can expect to get 2X-2.5X from row compression for a fact table. Column-orientation allows dictionary encoding to be applied effectively to low cardinality columns… and this accounts for the advantage there.

Col Dict

Dictionary-encoding reduces data to a compressed form by building a map that provides a translation for each cardinal value in the table to a tightly compressed form. For example, if there are indeed only three values possible in the DeptID field above then we might build a dictionary for that column as depicted in Figure 4. You can see… by encoding and storing the data in the minimal number of bits required, significant storage reduction is possible… and the lower the cardinality of a column the smaller the resulting bit representation.

Note that there is no free lunch here. There is a cost to be paid in CPU cycles to compress data and to decompress data… but for a read-optimized data warehouse database compression is cool. Exactly how cool depends on the level of maturity and we will get to that as we go.

It is crucial to remember that column store databases are relational. They ingest rows and emit rows and perform relational algebra in-between. So there has to be some magic that turns tuples into columns and restores them from columns. The integrity of a row has to persist. Again I am going to defer on the details and point you at the references below… but imagine that for each row a bit map is built that, for each column, points to the entry in the column dictionary with the proper value.

There is no free lunch to column store… no free lunch anywhere, it seems. Building this bit map on INSERT is very expensive, and modifying it on UPDATE is fairly expensive. This is why column-orientation is not suitable for OLTP workloads without some extra effort. But the cost is amortized by significant performance gains for READs.

One last concept: since peripheral I/O reads blocks imagine two approaches to column compression: one applies the concepts above to an entire table breaking each table into separate column-oriented files that may be read separately; and one which applies the concepts individually to each large block in a table file. Imagine, in the first case that Figure 2 represents a picture of the first few rows in our 1M-row table. Imagine, in the second case, that Figure 2 represents the rows in one block of data re-oriented into columns.

This second, block-oriented, approach is called PAX, and it is more-or-less the approach used by Exadata. In the PAX approach each block contains its own mini-column store and a dictionary for dictionary encoding with the values in the block. Because the cardinality for columns within a block will often be less than for an entire table there are some distinct advantages to PAX compression. Compression will be higher by more than a little than for full table columnar compression.

When Exadata reads a block from disk it decompresses the data back into rows and performs row-oriented processing to complete the query. This is very cool for Exadata… a great feature. As noted, column compression may be 4X better than row compression on the average. This reduces the storage requirements and reduces the overhead of I/O by 4X… and this is a very significant improvement. But Exadata stops here. It is not a columnar-oriented DBMS and it misses the significant advantages that come from the next two levels of column-orientation… I’ll take these up in the next post.

To be clear, all of the databases that use these more mature techniques: Teradata, HANA, Greenplum, Vertica, Paraccel, DB2, and SQL Server gain from columnar compression even if the PAX approach provides some small advantage as a compression technique.

It is also worth noting that Teradata does not gain as much as others in this regard. This is not because of poor design, rather it is due to the fact that, to their credit, Teradata implemented a Teradata-specific dictionary-based compression scheme long ago. Columnar compression let others catch up to what Teradata has offered for years.

And before you ask… Netezza offers no columnar orientation… preferring to compress deeply using an FPGA co-processor to decompress… and to reduce I/O using zone maps rather than the using the mid-level column projection techniques in the next blog here.

My 2 Cents: Oracle Exadata 1Q2013

English: The logo of Oracle Corporation de:Bil...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since my blogs tend to be in response to some stimulus they may not reflect a holistic view on any particular product. The “My 2 Cents” series will try to provide a broader view…

To help pay the bills please consider this as you read on…


OK, I hate Oracle marketing (see here and here). They are happy to skirt the edge of the credible too often. But let’s be real… Exadata was a very smart move… even if it a flawed product. The flaws are painful but not fatal… and Oracle can now play in the data warehouse space in places they could not play before. I do not believe that Exadata is a strong competitor as you will see below… it will not win many “fair” POCs… but the fight will be more than close enough to make customers with existing Oracle warehouses pick Exadata once they consider the cost of migration. This is tough… it means that customers are locked in to a relatively weak alternative… and every Oracle customer (and every Teradata customer and every SQL Server customer and every DB2 customer) should consider the long-term costs of vendor lock-in. But each customer has to weigh this for themselves… and this evaluation of the cost of lock-in is about neither architecture nor marketing…

Where They Win

First and foremost Exadata wins when there is an existing data warehouse or data mart on Oracle that will have to be migrated. My recommendation to customers is that they think about this carefully before they engage other vendors. It is a waste of everybody’s time to consider alternatives when in the end no alternative has a chance… and it is a double waste to do a POC when even a big technical win by a competitor cannot win them the business.

Exadata can win technically when the data “working set” is small. This allows Exadata to keep the hot data in SSD and in memory and better still, in the RAC layer. This allows Oracle to win POCs where that can suggest a subset of the EDW data is all that is required.

Exadata can win when the queries required, or tested, contain highly selective predicates that can be pushed down in the first steps of the explain plan. Conversely, Exadata bonks when lots of data must be pulled to the RAC layer to perform a join step.

Where They Lose

Everyone who has an Exadata system or who is considering one should view the two videos here. The architectural issues are apparent… and you can then consider the impact for your workload.

As noted above… in an Exadata execution plan the early simple table scans and projection are executed in the storage layer… subsequent steps occur in the RAC layer… if lots of data has to be moved up then the cluster chokes.

There are times when the architectural limitations are just too large and a migration is required to meet the response time requirements for the business. This often happens when Exadata is to support a single application rather than a data warehouse workload… In other words, if the cost of migrating away from Oracle is small, either because the applications to be moved are small or because an automated tool is available to mitigate the cosy or because the migration costs are subsidized by another source, then Exadata can lose even when there is a migration required.

Exadata can be beat on price… unless you count the cost of migration.

In the Market

For the reasons above, Exadata wins for current Oracle customers. There was a honeymoon when Exadata was winning some greenfield deals against other competitors… but these are now more rare.

My Guess at the Future

I think that the basic architecture of Exadata is defensible… having a split configuration is , after all, not completely foreign. Teradata and Greenplum and others use master nodes split from data nodes… and this is where is I predict we’ll see Oracle go. Over time, more execution steps will move to the storage layer and out of the RAC layer and in the end, Exadata will look ever more like a shared-nothing implementation. This just has to be the architectural way forward for Exadata (but don’t expect LE to stand up anytime soon and admit that he was wrong all of these years about the value of a shared-nothing architecture).

Phil has alerted us that there will be some OLTP/BI enhancements coming (see the comments section here)… which stole away a prediction I would have made otherwise.

The bottlenecks pointed out by Kevin Closson (as above and more here) need to be addressed… but to some extent these issues are the result of hardware constraints… and the combination of better hardware configurations and the push-down of more execution steps can mitigate many of the issues.

It will be a while before the Exadata architecture evolves to a point where the product is more competitive… and from now to then I think the World will be as I described it above… Oracle zealots will pick Exadata either as a religious stance or to avoid the cost of a migration… others will mostly go elsewhere…

Coming next… my 2 Cents on Netezza…