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Oracle cuts database tags for Sparc T2+ servers

No longer rotten to the Sun core

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As something of an engagement present for server maker Sun Microsystems, Oracle, the company's looming $7.4bn suitor, this week cut the prices it charges for key database software on the Sun Fire rack and blade servers using the company's "Victoria Falls" Sparc T2+ processors.

Under Oracle's software pricing regime for its eponymous and popular database software, the company charges a per-core price for a perpetual license to the software and then uses a processor score scaling factor to rejigger that price to account for the number of cores and, to a certain extent, the relative performance of those cores.

All processor cores are most certainly not created equal, and by the way, neither were all Oracle partners even before the software giant decided in April to buy Sun for its Solaris operating system, Java language, and MySQL database. (El Reg keeps hearing, its server and storage businesses, too; but we also know about the chatter how Oracle has tried to sell the Sun hardware biz both before and after the deal was announced.)

The processor core pricing scheme from Oracle dates from late 2004, and was tweaked in early 2005 to cut the price on Oracle software for machines using multicore chips by multiplying the core count in a system by 0.75, thus reducing the software license charges by 25 per cent. As chips have come out with varying numbers of cores per processor socket, Oracle has adjusted the scaling factors along with taking into account the relative performance per core within a family of chips and across different architectures. Sometimes it just rejigs things to suit its moods.

This week, perhaps ahead of the launch of a variant of the new Exadata 2 x64 cluster that will be based on Sparc T2+ servers when some sort of Sparc-Oracle hybrid is due to be announced on October 14 at Oracle's OpenWorld customer and partner event, Oracle has slashed the scaling factor on Sun's Sparc T2+ processor, the latest and fastest "Niagara" family chip that Sun has in the field, from 0.75 to 0.5. This amounts to a 33 per cent price cut for Oracle databases.

It will be lost on very few Unix systems enthusiasts that back in March, Oracle jacked the scaling factor on IBM's dual-core Power6 and Power6+ processors from 0.75 to 1, thereby raising the prices on IBM's latest AIX iron by 33 per cent. As things currently stand, Oracle databases are now twice as expensive per core on the Power6 and Power6+ cores than on the Sparc T2+ cores. (You can see a table with all of the current scaling factors here.)

Interestingly, Sun just boosted the clock speeds on the Sparc T2 and T2+ chips to 1.6 GHz, up from the 1.4 GHz speed of earlier generations. The Sparc T2 chip has eight cores, with eight threads per core, and includes integrated 10 Gigabit Ethernet links on the chip; it is available for single-socket machines.

The Sparc T2+ takes out the integrated networking and adds symmetric multiprocessing that scales up to four sockets in a single system image, for a total of 256 threads - twice the number of threads as IBM's top-end Power 595 server has. It is interesting to note that Sun did not reduce the scaling factor on the Sparc T2 chips, just on the Sparc T2+ variants.

Servers based on the original Sparc T1 chips, which had eight cores and four threads per core, had a 0.25 scaling factor if they ran at 1 GHz or 1.2 GHz, and 0.5 if they ran at 1.4 GHz. Any Sparc T2 chip has a 0.75 scaling factor, which is the same level set for any multicore UltraSparc chip from Sun or Sparc64 chip from Fujitsu, any multicore PA-RISC chip from Hewlett-Packard, or any multicore Power5+ or earlier Power chip from IBM.

Any multicore desktop or server chip from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, regardless of generation, has a 0.5 scaling factor for Oracle database pricing. However, Big Blue's Power6 and mainframe chips as well as any single-core processor or any other chip not expressly mentioned here has a scaling factor of 1, meaning no price cuts on the cores.

Itanium chips were originally at a 0.75 scaling factor, by the way, but were reduced at some point, and despite the large number of cores in modern x64 chips from Intel and AMD (four or six), Oracle has not been tempted to raise the scaling factor here. It will be interesting to see what Oracle does when AMD crams 12 cores in a socket and Intel starts cramming in eight cores.

The company must be sorely tempted to use a 0.75 scaling factor here instead of 0.5. And if Oracle works out a partnership deal with Fujitsu on reselling future Sparc64 iron in the wake of its acquisition of Sun, it would not be surprising to see the scaling factors drop on this iron as it just has on the Sparc T2+ machines. ®

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