Five years ago, when Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, Larry Ellison talked a lot about how owning the entire systems stack would allow him to do unique things with the servers from Oracle. After five years of hearing the hype and the talk, Ellison looks like he may have finally delivered. However, the big question still remains whether or not consumers will actually buy what he's selling.
servers at OpenWorld recently that are based on a new Sparc processor known as the M7. This upgrade has the typical improvements that you would expect in a new chip, including more cores, bigger caches, and higher bandwidth though the most interesting thing is software functions that Oracle has embedded into the silicon that improves the performance and security of applications. These include a memory-protection technology that is capable of providing a new level of security for in-memory databases along with an acceleration engine that allows data to be decompressed in near-real time for analytics. As a result, you get a wider use of compressed data.
According to Principal Analyst at Insight64 Nathan Brookwood, "Both of those are very interesting, because they're features I don't think a company that makes just chips -- that didn't have the software guys working with them -- would have invented." Brookwood has asked Oracle what new features it was able to include on each new processor the company has released as a result of owning both companies." Invariably they would say, well, you know, it takes time to do that, we don't really have anything yet," Brookwood added. "But with the M7, they do."
This is also the first new Sparc processor core designed entirely in-house by Oracle. It takes four to six years to design a new microprocessor, which has been the time frame that Oracle has owned Sun. "This is the first project that has Larry's fingerprints all over it," added Marshall Choy, Oracle Senior Director for Optimized Solutions. The M7 is currently on sale now and is in new models of Oracle's T-Series and M-Series servers along with an upgrade to the Oracle Supercluster, which is a pre-configured system for running the Oracle database.
The memory-protection technology, which is also known as "silicon-secured memory", prevents malicious programs from accessing parts of main memory that they're not used to, thus disposing of a common attack method for hackers. Whenever a new application needs new memory, the M7 creates a unique "color bit" which ensures the application can access only the portion of memory assigned to it. When the application process ends, the color bit expires and a new one is created for the next allocation of memory. "That's how we can prevent a piece of malware from accessing a memory segment it's not authorized to, because it will do that color code checking and abort the program if it doesn't match," Choy added.
This is particularly significant due to the fact that customers are storing large amounts of data in memory for analytics, where it is more susceptible to attacks. The secured memory technology will be available to any application that runs on the M7 systems, Choy said, and not just ones from Oracle. In addition to that, it is also capable of uncovering low-level bugs in software because it exposes any problems with memory allocation. For decompression, the accelerator in the chip will run at the full speed of Oracle's in-memory database. This means that customers will be able to use compressed data for in-memory computing without the performance overhead that they would normally have to deal with.
Oracle is offering the M7 chip in the T-Series servers, which are typically used for scale-out configurations, and in the M-Series servers, which scale up to form big SMP boxes. This is also the first time the company will use the same processor across both product lines and, according to Choy, "We literally have one chip. We have exactly on part number for the M7."
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