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Oracle rewrites 'the brain' of its database to take on SAP

DRAM guzzling add-on brings Oracle's crown jewel up to date

Oracle frankenstein

Oracle's future is its rival's past, but the database giant isn't worried because the changes it has made to let its database store data in speedy consumer memory afford far more backwards compatibility than does SAP HANA.

With the launch of the Oracle Database In-Memory tech on Tuesday, the world's most influential data-management company has closed a gap with rival SAP and thrown further doubt on some of the value claimed by newer, younger startups.

The new software lets admins of Oracle's "12c" database easily shift data into the DRAM memory of computer servers, which is a much more responsive storage medium than traditional spinning disk or pricey solid-state drives.

With the upgrade, Oracle has tightened competition with IBM, Microsoft, and – most significantly – its arch-rival SAP, which introduced an "in-memory" processing system named HANA back in late 2010.

The difference between HANA and Oracle's new software is that Ellison & Co.'s "in-memory" option is compatible with all existing Oracle apps built via 12c, letting admins get the advantages of memory without having to drastically rewrite entire apps.

"We've implemented this so that you have to do nothing to your applications to test it out," said Oracle VP of product management Tim Shetler in a call with El Reg. "That was purely so people could adopt it easily, and not have to open up the app and be forced to make changes. Everything they could have done previously is still accessible when running with the in-memory option."

Oracle has also let the system tier across different memory mediums within the same cluster. "Even though this is memory-optimized database tech, there's no requirement entire database or dataset be in memory to use it," said Shetler. "We also have the ability to spread a large dataset across different tiers of storage. If you run a query against that data it will all transparently come back."

So, what's different?

"A lot of the transparency comes through enhancements we've had to make to the optimizer in the database," he said. "The optimizer is always the one – the brain – that sees a SQL statement and figures out what is the fastest way to analyze this request. The optimizer will decide based on the request which direction to route the request."

As the optimizer is a fundamental part of the database, Oracle has spent several years working on adding this capability without breaking anything. Subtle things like making sure "that if one app had made a modification to the row store and that data that's been modified or is in the in-memory columnar store, we have to synchronizer those two," are why it's taken Oracle several years to catch up to SAP HANA.

Overall, introducing the tech meant "the disruption was fairly minimal," Shetler said. "It was like grafting an in-memory store onto an existing set of plumbing and foundation and infrastructure."

Pricing was not disclosed. ®

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