Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison has used the keynote of Oracle OpenWorld to launch the "Exalogic Elastic Compute Cloud" - an appliance combining server and storage hardware with a pre-tuned web server, hypervisor and other middleware.
Introducing the product as "a honking big cloud in a box", Ellison shifted from his previous criticism of the terms "cloud computing" and "private cloud" by using the exact same terms to sell a physical appliance.
The Exalogic was to the application server what Oracle's Exadata was to the database server - a pre-tuned bundle of hardware and software built largely using industry standard components.
The Exalogic included thirty Sun servers (30 x two-processor servers, each with six cores), connected together and to an in-built storage device via a 40GB/sec infiniband network.
It also came with "all the middleware you need to run your application," Ellison said, including the WebLogic app server, a choice of two operating systems (Solaris or Oracle's new 'Unbreakable' version of Linux), Oracle's hypervisor, and its Java technologies JRockit and HotSpot.
But the "secret sauce" of the Exalogic, Ellison said, was the device's 'coherance' software, which syncronises the memory systems of the 30 servers to create the illusion of one unified memory system.
A complete Exalogic rack offered 2.8TB of DRAM, 960GB of solid-state disk and 40TB of SAS disk storage.
Customers could buy the device in a quarter-rack, half-rack or full-rack and up to eight boxes could be lashed together to perform as a single compute cloud.
Ellison said the disk in the machine is striped and mirrored such that there was "no single point of failure on Exalogic."
"You can't lose any data, its fully redundant," he said.
Ellison said the consolidated device could scale "ten times larger" than IBM's largest SMP box at "one quarter the cost."
"The irony of all this is it costs a lot less to run Exalogic than an old SMP box," he said. "With SMP, there is a maximum amount of sockets you can put in it before the memory controllers can't handle it anymore. They are not scale-out - once you bought the IBM Power 795 there is no place to go to add extra capacity."
Ease of patching
Ease of patching
Ellison's biggest sales pitch for the box was an improved ability for large end users to manage multiple applications on a single device.
He said Oracle would be able to send customers a single file to patch all software operating on the device - be it the operating system, the middleware or any Oracle applications deployed.
He said that as more customers deploy Exalogic and Exadata, Oracle could "do a much better job of delivering more optimally-tuned hardware and software.
Today, he said, Oracle's largest customers used "too many permutations" of technologies for the vendor to be proactive in terms of patching.
"Now we test all the hardware and software thoroughly before we release it," he said. "We can do millions of hours of testing before we release or patch the product."
Read on for analyst reaction and key risks in Oracle's strategy...
IBRS analyst Kevin McIsaac said Exalogic was "the other shoe to drop" after Oracle's success with Exadata as a pre-tuned database machine.
But he did note some risks in Oracle's strategy - the first being the culture of many of today's IT departments.
Buying vertically integrated stacks presented a "very different approach to the way organisations procure systems today - via components," he said.
"The resistence to buying integrated systems is high. Internal IT departments that effectively work as systems integrators could see this as a threat."
McIsaac felt that vertically integrated stacks will win out in the long-run.
"Why would I want to select VMware for virtualisation, for example, HP for servers, EMC for storage, Cisco for networks and spend a lot of time and brainpower bolting it together?"
At the senior level, McIsaac said, CIOs will also be concerned at the prospect of being too locked in to Oracle.
"Sometimes, that is just used as an excuse not to change," McIsaac said. "You're always getting locked in somewhere. At least in this case, you could still move your apps to another platform if you felt the need."
McIsaac said lock-in should always be viewed in terms of whether "great value" being provided as a trade-off.
"In this case there is a lower cost of ongoing maintenance. Personally I think its a really good trade off."