IBM responds to Oracle's Exadata with new systems

New large-scale data crunchers on tap from Big Blue

IBM on Wednesday announced a new range of integrated systems for large-scale data analysis, mounting a fresh challenge to rival Oracle's Exadata platform.

The offerings include the pureScale Application System as well as Smart Analytics systems for System z mainframe computers and x86 machines.

The systems can handle "enormous amounts" of data and feature "deep compression capabilities" that can cut storage needs by up to 80 percent, according to IBM.

The pureScale product is aimed at transaction processing requirements, such as a smart utility grid, IBM said. It is composed of POWER7 servers, the WebSphere application server and IBM's DB2 pureScale software.

Meanwhile, the Smart Analytics offerings are aimed more at the BI (business intelligence) end of the spectrum. They include versions for System z mainframes and System x servers, and have integrated Cognos BI and InfoSphere data warehousing software. Customers would use these systems to produce dashboards and reports and analyze structured and unstructured data, IBM said. A solid-state disk drive option is available for faster performance.

IBM is also hoping to enlist the help of business partners that have worked with Sun Microsystems, which was purchased by Oracle this year, to sell the new products. Its financial arm is pledging up to US$500 million in financing to "help credit-qualified Sun Business Partners migrate towards the resale of IBM systems."

The program will provide those partners with money to "maintain healthy balance sheets and minimize risk -- a capability Sun-Oracle's in-house financing organization cannot provide," IBM claimed.

The System x offering is available now, while the System z version and pureScale Application System are set for release in this quarter.

There is no question IBM's announcements are "a direct attack on Oracle-Sun," said analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research. "Exadata is so central to Oracle/Sun that you can't aim at Oracle/Sun without shooting at Exadata."

Oracle first announced the Exadata machines in 2008 and initially partnered with Hewlett-Packard for the systems' hardware. It switched to Sun boxes for the second version of Exadata announced last year, which also added a focus on transaction processing.

The systems use Oracle's database and storage server software along with Sun servers and FlashFire solid-state storage. Oracle executives have repeatedly claimed Exadata outperforms IBM technology.

As for IBM's announcement, "it doesn't sound as if there's a lot of new technology there," Monash said. "One possible exception is enhanced compression. DBMS vendors that are compression laggards have been working hard to improve, and maybe it's IBM's turn now."

IBM is expected to discuss the announcements further at an event in San Jose, California, on Wednesday.

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