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Exadata Eighth Rack: A Few Thoughts

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has announced the arrival of a new, smaller member of the Exadata X3 H2M2 family: the eighth rack. It’s targeted at environments that are too small for a quarter rack. But, a quarter rack is already slimmed down to two database servers and three storage servers, and cutting out any more servers than this would compromise high availability by creating single points of failure.

The newly-available Exadata X3-2 datasheet tells us how it’s done:

Upgradability: Field upgrade from Eighth Rack to Quarter Rack
Additional Hardware Components Present In The Eighth Rack Are Enabled With The Upgrade:
• Eight additional cores of the Intel® Xeon® E5-2690 Processors (2.9 GHz) in each Database Server are enabled
• Six disks and two Flash Cache cards in each Exadata Storage Server are enabled

This is what I call “IBM-style” hardware sales: physically providing a large system, but artificially restricting capacity in software and providing an upgrade option to “unlock” this capacity through some type of key code. This “capacity on demand” has been a mainstay of IBM’s midrange server offerings for quite some time, but I haven’t seen it before on an Intel/Linux machine.

In the Exadata eighth rack scenario, the hardware is physically the same as a quarter rack, but half of the CPU cores, flash cards, and hard disks are “locked” in software.

The benefit for Exadata customers is that the entry-level price point for Exadata is much lower, while still giving them high availability and the capability to increase capacity later without hardware changes. For Oracle, however, this means that they must still provide entire quarter rack hardware to customers at a lower price point, reducing hardware profit margins. They are obviously hoping that increased sales volumes and customers buying the software unlock will compensate.

I’ve seen several cases where Exadata was evaluated as an option but found to be too expensive for too much capacity, and I can see the eighth rack option making Exadata a much more competitive offering for this part of the market.

If you’re considering the eighth rack, I think there are two main questions to ask yourself:
1. Can you benefit from Exadata’s features (storage offload, flash cache, hybrid columnar compression)?
2. Do your data and usage volumes, including projected growth, fit with what the eighth rack provides (18 cores, 2.4TB flash, up to 18TB raw disk)?

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