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November 5, 2010

Oracle Buys 10 Percent Share of Mellanox

Michael Feldman

Oracle may have forsaken HPC users, but not the technology. Late Wednesday, the company announced it was buying a 10.2 percent share in Mellanox, the premier InfiniBand vendor. Gushed CEO Ellison in the press release: “InfiniBand is by far the fastest and most efficient switch fabric for running enterprise data centers.”

Mellanox products have been used in Oracle’s database machinery at least as far back as 2003, when the company realized InfiniBand could deliver much better I/O performance than conventional Ethernet or Fibre Channel technology for data warehouse and OLTP applications. The HP Oracle Database Machine (aka Exadata V1) released in 2008 used Voltaire DDR switching, while the second generation Exadata system in 2009, the Sun Oracle Database Machine, used Sun’s QDR InfiniBand switches. Both database offerings relied on Mellanox silicon.

Oracle is also targeting InfiniBand for its Exalogic Elastic Cloud, its so-called “cloud in a box.” In this case, the utility of the HPC interconnect is its high-throughput, lossless behavior, ability to partition resources, and scalability.

Now that Sun and Oracle are one, there is little incentive for the database maker to tinker with the interconnect formula, given that Sun IB switches are now produced in-house. And since InfiniBand competitor QLogic hasn’t show any interest in selling its switch chips to other vendors, Ellison apparently wanted to make sure Mellanox had plenty of incentive to support his company’s particular needs.

According the Oracle announcement, the 10 percent stake, which works out to about $70 million, is “for investment purposes only, to solidify common interest in the future of InfiniBand. Oracle has no plan or intention to make an unsolicited and unfriendly offer to take over Mellanox.” That’s good news for HPC. It would be disheartening to see another HPC vendor sucked into the No Man’s Land of high performance computing. Only the gang at QLogic would have wished for such an outcome.

The most immediate effect is that Mellanox will likely devote a few more resources to supporting Solaris, an OS obviously near and dear to Oracle. An even shorter term effect will be the upward pressure on Mellanox stock, at least temporarily. The company’s share prices bumped up by 12.94 percent to $24.00 in after hours trading on Wednesday.

In the longer term, Oracle’s buy-in shows enterprise users that InfiniBand is indeed not just for MPI geeks. At a time when Ethernet vendors are trumpeting 10GbE as the second coming of the datacenter, that has to be particular heartening to IB lovers everywhere.

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