Ellison: Oracle's In-Memory Tech Is So Fast, Some Customers Think Their Database Is Broken

Oracle unveiled its long-awaited in-memory database technology Tuesday, marking its official entry to a red-hot market that's all about speed and the near-instantaneous retrieval of data.

In an event at Oracle's headquarters in Redwood Shores, Calif., CEO Larry Ellison said Oracle's new "in-memory column store" technology, which works in conjunction with the vendor's 12c database, enables database queries and analytics to run between 100 and 1,000 times faster than in the past.

With in-memory technology, Oracle 12c database allows each CPU core to scan 2.5 billion rows per second, Ellison said.

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Oracle is harnessing that extra horsepower for its own applications. A customer receivables management app from Oracle JD Edwards has seen an eye-popping performance boost from using in-memory technology.

The time it takes for the 12c database to process 10 million invoice lines has been shrunk from 244 minutes to 4 seconds, Ellison said.

Oracle's in-memory technology performs queries and analytics so quickly that some customers in beta testing mistakenly concluded that their database was somehow "broken," said Ellison.

The extra performance means Oracle customers will be able to do business much faster than in the past, according to Ellison. "Enterprises can think differently about how they operate because of these technological changes," he said. "They can get information instantaneously now."

Oracle is coming late to the in-memory database space, where products such as SAP HANA and HP Vertica are already well-established. Ellison said one reason Oracle took longer is because it wanted customers to be able to use its in-memory database without having to make changes to their existing apps.

"All your SQL runs unchanged. There is no loading and unloading of data -- it just works," Ellison said of the in-memory database technology.

Ellison said Oracle also wanted to solve challenges that existing in-memory databases haven't yet conquered. One example is online transaction processing.

While in-memory database technology in general is designed for faster execution of database queries and analytics, current products on the market don't extend this to online transaction processing, Ellison said.

Online transactions run faster when data is stored in row format, while analytics run better when stored in column format, Ellison said. Oracle's 12c database stores data in both row and columnar formats, and that allows online transaction processing to run twice as fast as previous Oracle databases, he said.

Ellison said another issue with existing in-memory databases is that they don't scale well. Oracle has tackled this challenge with a technology called Real Application Clusters, which stores data across multiple cluster nodes, allowing it to take advantage of the memory from many different machines, Ellison said.

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Ellison said another advantage Oracle enjoys on the competition is that its in-memory 12c database doesn't require customers to load all of their data into the database in order to work with it. Instead, it keeps active data in-memory for faster access, storing the rest on flash and disk drives.

The in-memory-equipped 12c also has a hierarchy that automatically manages access to the data, Ellison said.

"This is economical because you don't have to buy DRAM to hold your data. You can have an enormous database and take advantage of flash," Ellison said, adding that it's also scalable and fast.

High availability is another big feature Oracle is touting. In-memory databases from other vendors are vulnerable to downtime, but not Oracle's, Ellison said.

Oracle's in-memory-enabled 12c database stores copies of data on at least two nodes, in a setup that is "very much like disk mirroring, Ellison said.

"There are no other in-memory databases that are fault-tolerant," Ellison said. If a node goes down with the Oracle 12c in-memory database, "you're still in business."

Oracle plans to make its in-memory database technology generally available to customers next month, though it hasn’t yet shared pricing information.

The Oracle PartnerNetwork is also planning to add in-memory database technology to its Oracle Database 12c Ready certification.