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Ageing Oracle boss Larry Ellison has declared his infatuation with the young PC.

Or more accurately, after years of dissing the PC as an unwieldy hairball and promoting his own alternatives, the old fox has realised he can make a mint by selling Oracle clustering on Xeon boxes. So the x86 version of Oracle will no longer be a second-class citizen. While Ellison threw barbs at IBM's Intel clustering at Oracle OpenWorld this week, Oracle was ushering customers into Intel Solution Centres to show off its Real Application Clusters.

And us, too, as it happened. The instance we saw in Reading's Winnersh Triangle was running Windows 2000 Advanced Server, although its equivalent in Munich runs Linux. (There are two more such centres, in Stockholm and Moscow). We were looking at $90,000 worth of kit, so its something that you'd reasonably expect to hold its own against 8-12 way Risc. At the heart of the demonstration cluster was a 4x4 700MHz Xeon. And having first checked that everything was earthed (this was the Vulture on Intel territory here) off we went unplugging cables. The target mean time-to-recovery is five minutes, depending on the load, but even with 12 CPUs worth of load generators, it picked up within 30 seconds.

All well and good. The really interesting aspect is that the system was based on standard white box kit, with the only luxury item on show being the Myrinet switch, which is $6000 plus the same again for each card. Oracle 9i RAC has only been certified for Compaq kit right now, with Fujitsu-Siemens servers in the pipeline, but Chipzilla stresses that a box can be replaced without expensive reconfiguration. And this, it reckons, is a recession beater.

The storage on view was provided by an EMC CLARiiON box which, although based on Linux, 9i talks to Network Appliance NAS boxes using Fast Tango. The roadmap calls for cluster file system support to be added to RAC.

RAC is based on Oracle Parallel Server, but much revised. The distributed lock manager is still there but there are caching improvements to minimize traffic between nodes.

Neither Oracle nor Intel cited bang per buck figures. Sun is the low-hanging fruit for Intel here, but that's isn't accounting for the deep price cuts Sun made when it introduced its new Daktari workgroup servers last month, nor the Jalapeno UlatraSparc IIIi, which is Sun's answer to getting whumped by Xeon at the low end. And so we left the Winnersh Triangle without disappearing... ®

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