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IBM readies Exadata killer

Big Blue can swing both ways, too

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Exclusive According to sources familiar with the company's plans, IBM is getting ready to launch its own database clustering box for online transaction processing (OLTP) and data warehousing.

The machine, which is apparently going to be called DB2 Pure Scale, is obviously meant to blunt the attack of the Exadata 2 box cluster that Oracle and soon-to-be acquisition Sun Microsystems launched in mid-September.

This machine is based on Sun's x64 rack servers and flash and disk storage, as well as Oracle's Real Application Clusters extensions to its 11g database and its Exadata storage software. It is a precursor to an expected Exadata variant due from Oracle on October 14, presumably based on Sparc T2+ servers and maybe a souped up flash array called the F5100, which crams 80 flash drives into a 1U chassis, delivering 4 TB of flash capacity and 1 million I/O operations per second of storage throughput.

IBM doesn't want to let Sun and Oracle do all the talking, of course. This is why DB2 Pure Scale is being launched - perhaps this week ahead of Oracle's OpenWorld show, which starts on October 11 - and almost certainly ahead of whatever Sparc announcements Oracle and Sun make on October 14. IBM could, however, keep its powder dry and do a launch of its DB2 clusters after Oracle is done talking and after it has spoken to Wall Street on October 15 about how its third quarter worked out. Generally, IBM likes to have big announcements out the door just ahead of its Wall Street pitch, so it seems reasonable to expect a launch sometime this week or early next week.

While the details are sketchy, DB2 Pure Scale is apparently a clustered implementation of IBM's DB2 database for Unix, Windows, and Linux platforms. IBM has had parallel implementations of DB2 for years, but DB2 Pure Scale apparently has a slightly different twist.

Remember DB2 Parallel Edition for IBM's RS/6000 SP PowerParallel machines, which were the basis of the chess-playing Deep Blue boxes, back in the mid-and-late 1990s? Or how about DB2 Multisystem for the OS/400-based midrange Power boxes, which was released in 1996 and which does essentially what Oracle RAC does? Or maybe you remember DB2 Integrated Cluster Environment for Linux, which came out in 2005 and which offered clustering for capacity and high availability for IBM's x86 and x64 servers? DB2 and Parallel Sysplex have been around clustering for capacity and HA since the 1990s as well.

According to the sources who spoke to El Reg, DB2 Pure Scale will run on Power-based servers with the AIX operating system and will make use of an InfiniBand interconnect to link server and storage nodes together in a cluster. The DB2 Pure Scale setup will use the Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) features of InfiniBand to give nodes access to each other's data for processing. The impending IBM cluster will also have a designated server in a cluster that functions much as a head node in a supercomputing cluster. In this case, it will manage the locking of database fields as transactions and queries are processed and the locking and unlocking of memory in all of the nodes in the cluster.

Apparently, other clustering technologies - this must mean Oracle 11g RAC - have a lot of chatter back and forth as transactions run on the cluster, with each server acting like its own traffic cop. But DB2 Pure Scale just has one traffic cop for the whole cluster (presumably with a hot spare or two) that works like a giant memory controller and database lock. How this can result in scalability without bogging down the central database and memory locking server is a bit of a mystery. But that's why software engineers and math majors still get good paychecks, and I look forward to learning more about this.

It looks like IBM will pitch DB2 Pure Scale in much the same way as Oracle is pitching Exadata 2: It swings both ways. Meaning, it can do OLTP or data warehousing, and provide high availability because it is an inherently clustered environment. DB2 applications will apparently run on it unmodified, just as Oracle is claiming Oracle applications can be with Exadata clusters. ®

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