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Netezza slims TwinFin analytics appliance

Skimmer aims low

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Data warehousing appliance maker Netezza has put together a cut-down version of its TwinFin analytics appliance, called Skimmer, to chase midrange customers who do not need the full-tilt-boogie TwinFin setup.

The Skimmer appliance is based on the same hardware and software setup that Netezza announced in August 2009 for the high-end TwinFin appliances. The TwinFin is based on BladeCenter x64 blade servers and chassis from IBM, which are goosed for data warehousing and analytics by a special field programmable gate array (FPGA) co-processor that Netezza uses to speed up the heavily modified PostgreSQL database that runs on top of the iron.

It is called a TwinFin because of the pairing of the IBM two-socket HS22 Xeon X5500 blade server with a mate FPGA blade. (The Netezza appliances, which debuted in 2003 had FPGAs as well, but these we plugged into custom Power-based servers, which incidentally did not come from Big Blue). There are eight FPGAs on the accelerator blade - one for each x64 core - and they speed up the filtering of data moving off storage before being passed on to the database software as well as doing complex sorting and joins of database tables as part of analytical routines.

The Skimmer 1 is based on IBM's BladeCenter S office-style blade chassis. It has a single Snippet Blade, or S-Blade for short. This S-Blade is actually comprised of two blades, the Netezza Database Accelerator blade containing the FPGAs and an eight-core (two-socket) HS22 blade. That BladeCenter S chassis comes in a 7U form factor, and the remaining slots in the box are used for small form factor disks, with 2.8 TB of capacity attached to the S-Blade and 10 TB of capacity attached to the x64 blade where the PostgreSQL database runs and holds customer data to be diced and sliced. A loaded Skimmer configuration costs $125,000, according to Netezza.

Up until now, the smallest TwinFin system had three S-Blades and 8 TB of user capacity for the data warehouse and came in a rack that was about a quarter full. This was the TwinFin3 configuration. The TwinFin 12 configuration had a dozen S-Blades and up to 32 TB of capacity, and Netezza offered configurations that spanned up to 10 racks, or 120 S-Blades and 320 TB of capacity.

According to Tim Young, vice president of marketing at Netezza, the company charged around $200,000 for that TwinFin 3 system last year, and larger configurations cost on the order of around $20,000 per TB. A fully loaded rack of TwinFin 12 gear cost around $1m after the haggling. Prior generations of Netezza gear cost somewhere on the order of three times this amount, which is why Netezza shifted to commodity IBM blade hardware.

At $125,000 for the Skimmer is offering a new price point, but with only one S-Blade, the Skimmer will only be able to do one-third the data chewing of the TwinFin 3, even though it has 2 TB more capacity to chew with. (Capacity, like talk, is cheap. FPGAs and highly tuned databases, not so much).

Netezza is a bit perplexed about all of the noise Oracle and Sun are making about the Exadata appliance announced last September using Sun's x64 servers and storage and touted as not only a data warehousing box but an OLTP cluster as well. There is a bunch of flash memory jammed into the Exadata machine to boost performance, but according to Young: "There's nothing really about Exadata that is much different than an Oracle 11g cluster."

While Oracle was touting that Exadata could now do OLTP transaction processing as well as support data warehouses, Young says that OLTP and BI are "diametric opposites" and that he suspects that what is really going on is that Exadata was not particularly good at data warehousing (which requires filtering, joins, and sorting) and can be - and has been - tweaked to do a better job at handling the short, small transactions that are part of OLTP systems.

Netezza has 300 customers using its appliances, and at last count, Oracle had 25 using Exadata. And part of that has to do with the amount of tuning Exadata requires, according to Young. "Exadata requires a hell of a lot of performance tuning, Netezza appliances don't take any," says Young. "Customers can drop their data into Netezza and get orders of magnitude better performance. Tuning is why people come to Netezza - they are sick and tired of having to retune everything every six months." ®

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