Oracle CEO emphasises technology credentials, showcases in-memory approach

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Oracle CEO Larry Ellison used his keynote at the Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco not as an opportunity to showcase customer success and business benefits - as has become the tech-industry CEO trend in recent years - but to underscore the company’s hardcore technology credentials.

Simply put, the casually dressed billionaire was in his element discussing database technology, and particular, in-memory database technology, with his audience. Showing off the company’s latest database offering, Oracle 12c, Ellison explained that it was capable not only of running analytic queries up to 100 times faster - but also that, in the process, customers would see no compromise in transaction performance. “In fact, we’ve figured out a way to speed up query processing by several orders of magnitude but at the same time offer at least double transaction-processing rates.

That’s down, he explained, to the way 12c combines row-format and columnar-format database technology, synching data across the two formats. Traditional databases store data in row format, making it easier to add new rows or records in online transaction processing (OLTP) environments. A newer approach sees some database products store data in columns instead, which speeds up query processing in online analytical processing (OLAP) environments used to generate reports, for example. By incorporating this approach, Ellison said, 12c can run queries at “ungodly” speed.

With 12c, said Ellison, customers get the benefits of both. Plus, he adds, they can take advantage of 12c’s in-memory capabilities, “simply by throwing a switch”, with no changes necessary to applications. “Nothing changes - the only change is that it takes less time to run,” he said.

With his focus on technology, and more specifically on in-memory database technology, Ellison’s keynote threw out a clear challenge to its rival SAP, and its own in-memory database offering, SAP HANA. Last year, the German software company had 2012 revenues of some £400 million from HANA, and executives at the company said in July that they expect to see 2013 revenues of between $1 billion and $1.1 billion.

SAP’s co-founder and former CEO Hasso Plattner (now the company’s chairman) led the research and development effort that created HANA and is a keen presenter on the in-memory technology that underpins it. The demonstrable enthusiasm with which Ellison discussed 12c’s heuristic ability to move data between storage tiers according to access patterns and the database’s ability to scale both up and out, led some industry commentators to draw comparisons between the two. “We know [Professor] Plattner. We are getting a little of [Professor] Ellison. They have more in common than people think,” tweeted industry analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research.

But just as he has done with Cloud technology, which he openly dismissed for several years, Ellison’s newfound enthusiasm for in-memory database technology represents something of a change of heart. When asked about SAP HANA in early 2010, he responded with scorn:

“Get me the name of their pharmacist,” he responded to an audience question about SAP’s in-memory plans. “There’s no in-memory database technology anywhere near ready to take the place of the relational database. It’s a complete fantasy. It’s just whacko.”

Elsewhere in his opening keynote at Oracle OpenWorld 2013, ‘Professor’ Ellison also introduced two new infrastructure products. The first was M6-32, a new server known internally at Oracle as the ‘Big Memory Machine’ and, according to Ellison, ideal for using in-memory technology in big data environments with an eye-opening 32 terabytes of RAM.

The second was a new, high-speed backup and recovery appliance, developed because back-up appliances already available on the market aren’t really designed with databases in mind, but rather, file systems. These products, said Ellison, “treat databases as just a collection of files,” which is where he sees an opportunity for Oracle’s new product, which goes by the unwieldy name of the Oracle Database Backup Logging Recovery Appliance.

“If you’re wondering who came up with such a clever name, you’re looking at him,” he joked. “That’s the actual product name. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”

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