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In-memory Database – Oracle’s Exadata X3 vs. SAP’s HANA

This week at the Oracle Open World conference, Larry Ellison announced the new Exadata X3 processor that has 4TB of DRAM plus 22TB of Flash or SSD memory. Therefore, he said that you could have 26TB of in-memory data for fast processing at very fast write-speed (1m writes per second). Clearly this is aimed at SAP’s in-memory database project HANA that has been shipping for last 6 months. Larry, in his typical style, derided HANA as one with 0.5TB of DRAM and therefore not worth comparing to the X3.

Subsequent to this announcement, Vishal Sikka, SAP’s CTO and head of HANA development, wrote a blog refuting Oracle’s claim as false and mis-leading. He says that the 22TB of SSD does not count as memory and HANA has such SSD for persistence. He says, “We are presently shipping, for the last several months, certified 16-node HANA hardware made by 4 vendors: IBM, HP, Fujitsu and Cisco.  These systems are available for 16TB of DRAM, so they are already 4 times bigger than Oracle’s machine, and they have been in the market since spring of this year. The machines can take up to 32TB of DRAM, within their current configurations.  In IBM’s case, with the Max5 configuration, they can go up to 40TB.”

During SAP’s annual conference Sapphire last May, they demonstrated the largest HANA system built so far – an IBM cluster running a 100TB of DRAM and 4000 CPU core. Already today this system can go up to 250TB of DRAM (and with HANA’s compression, can hold multiple Petabytes of data entirely in-memory).

SAP is not into hardware unlike Oracle (with its Sun acquisition) who is quite motivated to make the hardware business succeed by creating their “engineered” systems. SAP gets its hardware cluster from four vendors and IBM is the strongest partner (even though it competes in the database space). SAP claims that HANA is not merely an in-memory database system, it provides many additional functions such as real-time analytics, etc.

Oracle will be a formidable competitor, as they have the longest years of experience in managing data. Now they are shifting to providing platform as a service with database, analytics, application development and social services. The game is not merely about speed and feed, but several other dimensions. SAP claims a rapid adoption of HANA in the few months of its introduction. It is hard to compare as there is no benchmark performance numbers.

The market will be the best judge of who is better. There are many camps now. The NoSQL camp is denouncing all the traditional database vendors as incapable of handling the large volume of unstructured data (Big Data). The initial target of both SAP and Oracle seem to be its existing customer base, who will find a logical upgrade path to use these in-memory database solutions for fast speed and scalability.


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More Stories By Jnan Dash

Jnan Dash is Senior Advisor at EZShield Inc., Advisor at ScaleDB and Board Member at Compassites Software Solutions. He has lived in Silicon Valley since 1979. Formerly he was the Chief Strategy Officer (Consulting) at Curl Inc., before which he spent ten years at Oracle Corporation and was the Group Vice President, Systems Architecture and Technology till 2002. He was responsible for setting Oracle's core database and application server product directions and interacted with customers worldwide in translating future needs to product plans. Before that he spent 16 years at IBM. He blogs at http://jnandash.ulitzer.com.