Oracle's Exadata delivering on hype for LinkShare

But fine-tuning is required to gain the most benefits, according to people using the platform

Oracle's claims about its Exadata database machine's performance capabilities are merited, but in order to get the benefits, customers have to do more than flip a switch, according to a customer and consultant who are working with the platform.

Pythian Group, a remote database administration firm in Ottawa, Ontario, is implementing Exadata at LinkShare, an affiliate marketing and lead-generation provider for e-commerce businesses.

Exadata is "a new kind of animal," said Paul Vallée, founder and executive chairman of Pythian Group. The systems combine servers, storage and database software into a unified system for both transaction processing and data warehousing.

Oracle has claimed customers will see tenfold increases in speed and data capacity. A key component is the "smart storage" software built into Exadata's storage servers, which moves query processing closer to data, reducing the amount of information that must pass through the system's interconnects.

"Oracle really did create a very innovative platform here," Vallée added. "[But] implementing it in real-life deployments is hard, and in some cases risky. A lot of companies don't have an operational team willing to take it on."

In addition, Oracle wanted to ensure that early deployments of the system were a hit, and therefore staffed those projects with its own engineers, he said. Embracing third-party servicers such as Pythian "is a statement of confidence in that they're having enough successful implementations."

LinkShare plans to have the Exadata system in production mode "pretty much any time now," said chief operating officer Jonathan Levine said. Customers will be migrated onto the platform over a period of weeks, he said.

The system is performing "in a lot of ways, better than we hoped," Levine said. "It does what Oracle told us it would do, which we were surprised about."

Despite the benefits Exadata will apparently deliver for LinkShare, prospective customers need to keep a few things in mind, Levine said. "It's an appliance, but in the same way a ... sophisticated home audio system is an appliance. It's not a refrigerator or a printer."

To do the migration, Pythian Group had to perform an assortment of tasks, such as tweaking LinkShare's data model and rewriting SQL queries.

"This thing is a heavy lifter but you have to play to its strengths," Vallée said. A Pythian consultant has worked with LinkShare full-time since January.

Exadata is sold in various configurations. LinkShare is running two half-racks in parallel. "The thinking is if we have a disaster at one data center, we'll have another available," he said. The company is currently managing about 6TB of data, a figure that grows "by a few hundred gigs a month," he said.

LinkShare actually purchased more Exadata capacity than it will end up using in the production system, because it didn't believe the sizing estimate Oracle had recommended would be sufficient, he said. It's using the extra capacity for development and testing purposes.

Before choosing Exadata, LinkShare looked at a wide range of products, including those sold by the maker of its previous system, Levine said. He declined to name the companies.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison recently stated that the Exadata sales pipeline is around US$1 billion. But that figure should be weighed against the fact that a full-rack Exadata setup has a list price of $1 million before support fees and database software licenses are included. Exadata systems loaded with all the bells and whistles can cost several million dollars, according to an analysis by Curt Monash of Monash Research.

Levine declined to discuss what LinkShare paid for the Exadata system. But the company will probably have a lower total cost of ownership, because competing systems would have been several times larger, and used much more power, he said.

In addition, there's a big advantage in using the same teams to administrate both transaction processing and analytics, he said. "I don't anticipate trimming staff, but I anticipate being able to do a better job," he said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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