As Larry Ellison’s Team Oracle USA super schooner thrust its way ahead of rivals New Zealand out on San Francisco Bay, the Oracle CEO was seeking a similar burst of competitive speed back on dry land, in a downtown conference centre.
At this year’s OpenWorld 2013, the focus of Ellison’s keynote was the announcement of in-memory processing for the company’s Database 12c product and, conceivably, a hefty blow against German database firm SAP.
Claiming a “better idea” than the current industry convention of storing database data in columns or rows – that of storing it “simultaneously” in both formats – Ellison boasted that Oracle’s way is the only way. He said the mixed format storage could help do away with analytics indices, meaning data could be processed in-memory “100 times faster” (than what – Oracle’s older products, or rival products – was not discussed), claiming that in-memory processing would be a touch-button option for 12c that would cause no change to SQL, existing applications, or anything else.
Barely three years ago Ellison infamously described in-memory as “wacko”, saying: “In-memory databases? Yes, SAP is going after this. We missed it and IBM missed it, and it’s good that SAP CEO Hasso [Plattner] and his five guys in a garage got it. It’s wacko.”
It’s understandable why this U-turn may have riled SAP who, in the hours after the announcement, uploaded a video blog featuring SAP executive board member Vishal Sikka.
“When I heard about Oracle’s pre-announcement, my only thought for them was ‘Mr Ellison, why did it take you four years after you called us wackos to do more of the same thing you have always done?’” said Sikka on the blog.
“Welcome to the party – the good news is you are now a believer in in-memory databases, but guess what? We have already changed the game. We are already onto the next frontiers,” he added.
Small signs, apparently penned by SAP on a similar “four years late” theme, also began appearing around San Francisco’s Moscone conference centre, the OpenWorld venue.
Oracle president Mark Hurd hit back, telling journalists: “I don’t like it when in-memory gets compared to SAP HANA, because I don’t think they’re comparable. SAP HANA has to be programmed, what we told you about has nothing to do with all that.
“It’s moving your current apps from here to there, and flipping the switch. All the magic is below the database layer. This thing of where you have to go and write a whole bunch of new software is very hard and very complicated. So I refute the thesis it’s even a comparison.”
While it’s fair to say that Oracle has had in-memory products for a while, these have been for specific functions – Coherence, a distributed data grid solution, being a good example.
Constellation Research analyst R “Ray” Wang told Computing: “Basically, what Oracle did was they gave existing apps customers, existing database customers and existing cloud customers the ability to just go in-memory overnight, and that was it. Traditionally, that’s a very hard thing to do.”
Wang expects Oracle’s product to be fast, due to its row and column storage method, and that running cost will be comparatively low. Oracle, said Wang, has a reputation for “commoditising innovation”, and 12c in-memory is just another example.
“They’ll take whatever’s new, they’ll think about it, they’ll let people go ahead as far as they get, and then at one point they’ll say ‘Fine, we’ll do it, too’, and when they do that, they drop all the cost against it,” said Wang.
Gartner analyst Dennis Gaughan believes that Oracle’s potential ability to undercut SAP HANA’s costs could conceivably win it new customers from the German firm, but only in specific circumstances.