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July 16, 2007

11g: Where’s the Grid?

Derrick Harris

Hear ye, hear ye! All hail Oracle Database 11g, the world’s greatest grid-ready database solution. Well, maybe not so fast …

Although it was introduced on Wednesday with much pomp and circumstance, including an introduction by renowned historian and author James Burke, and over a 2-plus-hour time span, presentations by Oracle bigwigs Charles Phillips, Chuck Rozwat and Andy Mendelsohn did little to explain how, exactly, 11g has advanced its grid capabilities beyond those of its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean the word wasn’t peppered throughout the morning’s stage show.

Oracle President Phillips, for his part, stated that “10g was about innovating and getting the grid out there,” which might lead one to believe that 11g, which he referred to as a “customer release,” was about advancing those grid capabilities. Perhaps it is, but I, for one, didn’t get that impression. Rather, it seems that while a few years of listening to the needs of customers and developers certainly led Oracle to making some impressive improvements and adding some cool features (see the announcement for details), they didn’t necessarily focus on the grid aspect. Of course, Phillips also noted that Oracle is gaining market share among grid users and seeing more adoption of its Real Application Clusters (RAC), which in no way means the majority of 10g users are utilizing its grid capabilities. This, actually, could go a long way toward explaining why there doesn’t appear to have been much customer feedback around the grid management aspects of the software.

Rozwat, Oracle’s executive vice president of server technologies, shed a little more light on the subject when he noted that grid processes and transactions can be accelerated when they are accessing a compatible database, which would seem logical, but the same easily could be said about processes or applications running on any type of platform. While 11g’s new features will no doubt help to optimize grid performance and might even ease transition to a grid platform — Rozwat cited new real application testing and automated task features as enablers — very few of the ones mentioned during the launch ceremony did much to back up Rozwat’s assertion that 11g is “all about growing the grid.”

However, even though 11g might not be the fantastic, grid-facilitating solution Oracle would like us to believe, that does little to diminish from the fact that many customers are using its database solutions successfully in grid environments. The company trotted out four customers to the stage, two of whom specifically noted the impressive quantities of data they are handling thanks to 10g. Mason Ng, director of engineering operations for Yahoo!, explained that since starting with a four-node RAC in 2002, the Web giant now utilizes hundreds of RACs across hundreds of thousands of servers in its datacenter. In addition, he said, because the company is managing, all told, well more than 100 petabytes of data, it is growing toward the point where Yahoo! will be regularly deploying 10-node RACs averaging around 50TB apiece. Fidelity National Information Services also took the stage and discussed its Oracle 10g infrastructure, which requires a grid platform in order to handle the inherent availability and scalability needs of managing hundreds of millions of documents for customers worldwide.

But before I’m accused of putting words into Oracle’s mouth regarding the grid features in 11g, I should point out that Betaland.net has posted an article that quotes Oracle Senior Vice President of Database Server Technologies Andy Mendelsohn as acknowledging that grid definitely wasn’t at the forefront in terms of 11g development:

Mendelsohn did concede that 11g lacks extensive support for grid computing, even though the “g” in both 10g and 11g refer to grid technology. “We’re doing a lot of work in grid technologies for the next release, which will make grid infrastructure even easier to adopt,” Mendelsohn said.

Maybe the lower-case “g” is fitting for the time being; perhaps we can expect to see a capital “G” when Release 2 comes out. I’ll also be interested to see how, if at all, Oracle decides to incorporate the Coherence data grid technology it acquired from Tangosol into any future releases. While Coherence is a far cry from a relational database, it is a valuable distributed data technology that is a natural fit for grid environments. Oracle currently includes Coherence as a component of its Fusion Middleware.

In non-Oracle-related news, be sure to check out this week’s article on Infosolve Technologies, a data quality solutions provider that is taking a novel approach to utilizing Sun’s Network.com. At the risk of putting myself out there as a Sun Grid evangelist (something rare, indeed, in its sea of skeptics), I’m once again impressed with what I’m seeing, although this time it is the user, not Sun, that is impressing me. Infosolve relies almost solely on Sun’s resources to run customer jobs, and claims it is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by doing so. In fact, the company says Sun’s utility computing offering has led to a new software-as-a-service-based business model where both Infosolve and its customers reap the benefits. If companies with SaaS-type solutions can convince customers to hop on board with the on-demand model — and see results like Infosolve has been seeing — perhaps Sun might have found the ideal type of user for its oft-maligned service.

Aside from this, we have announcements from SDSC, HP, IBM, DANTE, Voltaire and IDC, among others, that should be of interest.

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Comments about GRIDtoday are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Derrick Harris, at editor@gridtoday.com.