Thursday Nov 15, 2012

The SPARC SuperCluster

Oracle has been providing a lead in the Engineered Systems business for quite a while now, in accordance with the motto "Hardware and Software Engineered to Work Together." Indeed it is hard to find a better definition of these systems. 

Allow me to summarize the idea. It is: 

  • Build a compute platform optimized to run your technologies
  • Develop application aware, intelligently caching storage components
  • Take an impressively fast network technology interconnecting it with the compute nodes
  • Tune the application to scale with the nodes to yet unseen performance
  • Reduce the amount of data moving via compression
  • Provide this all in a pre-integrated single product with a single-pane management interface

All these ideas have been around in IT for quite some time now. The real Oracle advantage is adding the last one to put these all together. Oracle has built quite a portfolio of Engineered Systems, to run its technologies - and run those like they never ran before. In this post I'll focus on one of them that serves as a consolidation demigod, a general purpose engineered system. 

As you probably have guessed, I am talking about the SPARC SuperCluster. It has many great features inherited from its predecessors, and it adds several new ones. Allow me to pick out and elaborate about some of the most interesting ones from a technological point of view. 

The SPARC SuperCluster

I. It is the SPARC SuperCluster T4-4. That is, as compute nodes, it includes SPARC T4-4 servers that we learned to appreciate and respect for their features:

  • The SPARC T4 CPUs:
    • Each CPU has 8 cores, each core runs 8 threads. The SPARC T4-4 servers have 4 sockets. That is, a single compute node can in parallel, simultaneouslyexecute 256 threads. Now, a full-rack SPARC SuperCluster has 4 of these servers on board. Remember the keyword demigod. 
    • While retaining the forerunner SPARC T3's exceptional throughput, the SPARC T4 CPUs raise the bar with single performance too - a humble 5x better one than their ancestors. 
      • actually, the SPARC T4 CPU cores run in both single-threaded and multi-threaded mode, and switch between these two on-the-fly, fulfilling not only single-threaded OR multi-threaded applications' needs, but even mixed requirements (like in database workloads!).
    • Data security, anyone? Every SPARC T4 CPU core has a built-in encryption engine, that is, encryption algorithms cast into silicon
    • A PCI controller right on the chip for customers who need I/O performance. 
  • Built-in, no-cost Virtualization: 
    • Oracle VM for SPARC (the former LDoms or Logical Domains) is not a server-emulation virtualization technology but rather a serverpartitioning one, the hypervisor runs in the server firmware, and all the VMs' HW resources (I/O, CPU, memory) are accessed natively, without performance overhead. 
    • This enables customers to run a number of Solaris 10 and Solaris 11 VMs separated, independent of each other within a physical server

II. For Database performance, it includes Exadata Storage Cells - one of the main reasons why the Exadata Database Machine performs at diabolic speed. What makes them important?

  • They provide DB backend storage for your Oracle Databases to run on the SPARC SuperCluster, that is what they are built and tuned for DB performance. 
  • These storage cells are SQL-aware
    • That is, if a SPARC T4 database compute node executes a query, it doesn't simply request tons of raw datablocks from the storage, filters the received data, and throws away most of it where the statement doesn't apply, but provides the SQL query to the storage node too. The storage cell software speaks SQL, that is, it is able to prefilter and through that transfer only the relevant data. With this, the traffic between database nodes and storage cells is reduced immensely. Less I/O is a good thing - as they say, all the CPUs of the world do one thing just as fast as any other - and that is waiting for I/O. 
    • They don't only pre-filter, but also provide data preprocessing features - e.g. if a DB-node requests an aggregate of data, they can calculate it, and handover only the results, not the whole set. Again, less data to transfer. 
  • They support the magical HCC, (Hybrid Columnar Compression). That is, data can be stored in a precompressed form on the storage. Less data to transfer. 
  • Of course one can't simply rely on disks for performance, there is Flash Storage included there for caching. 

III. The low latency, high-speed backbone network: InfiniBand, that interconnects all the members with:

  • Real High Speed: 40 Gbit/s. Full Duplex, of course. Oh, and a really low latency. 
  • RDMA. Remote Direct Memory Access. This technology allows the DB nodes to do exactly that. Remotely, directly placing SQL commands into the Memory of the storage cells. Dodging all the network-stack bottlenecks, avoiding overhead, placing requests directly into the process queue. 
  • You can also run IP over InfiniBand if you please - that's the way the compute nodes can communicate with each other. 

IV. Including a general-purpose storage too: the ZFSSA, which is a unified storage, providing NAS and SAN access too, with the following features: 

  • NFS over RDMA over InfiniBand. Nothing is faster network-filesystem-wise. 
  • All the ZFS features onboard, hybrid storage pools, compression, deduplication, snapshot, replication, NFS and CIFS shares
  • Storageheads in a HA-Cluster configuration providing availability of the data 
  • DTrace Live Analytics in a web-based Administration UI
  • Being a general purpose application data storage for your non-database applications running on the SPARC SuperCluster over whichever protocol they prefer, easily replicating, snapshotting, cloning data for them. 

There's a lot of great technology included in Oracle's SPARC SuperCluster, we have talked its interior through. As for external scalability: you can start with a half- of full- rack SPARC SuperCluster, and scale out to several racks - that is, stacking not separate full-rack SPARC SuperClusters, but extending always one large instance of the size of several full-racks. Yes, over InfiniBand network. Add racks as you grow. 

What technologies shall run on it? SPARC SuperCluster is a general purpose scaleout consolidation/cloud environment. You can run Oracle Databases with RAC scaling, or Oracle Weblogic (end enjoy the SPARC T4's advantages to run Java). Remember, Oracle technologies have been integrated with the Oracle Engineered Systems - this is the Oracle on Oracle advantage. But you can run other software environments such as SAP if you please too. Run any application that runs on Oracle Solaris 10 or Solaris 11. Separate them in Virtual Machines, or even Oracle Solaris Zones, monitor and manage those from a central UI.

Here the key takeaways once again:

The SPARC SuperCluster:

  • Is a pre-integrated Engineered System
  • Contains SPARC T4-4 servers with built-in virtualization, cryptography, dynamic threading
  • Contains the Exadata storage cells that intelligently offload the burden of the DB-nodes 
  • Contains a highly available ZFS Storage Appliance, that provides SAN/NAS storage in a unified way
  • Combines all these elements over a high-speed, low-latency backbone network implemented with InfiniBand
  • Can grow from a single half-rack to several full-rack size
  • Supports the consolidation of hundreds of applications

To summarize: All these technologies are great by themselves, but the real value is like in every other Oracle Engineered System: Integration. All these technologies are tuned to perform together. Together they are way more than the sum of all - and a careful and actually very time consuming integration process is necessary to orchestrate all these for performance. The SPARC SuperCluster's goal is to enable infrastructure operations and offer a pre-integrated solution that can be architected and delivered in hours instead of months of evaluations and tests. The tedious and most importantly time and resource consuming part of the work - testing and evaluating - has been done. 

Now go, provide services.  

-- charlie  

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Oracle engineers hardware and software to work together in the cloud and in your data center. For more information about Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), visit www.oracle.com.

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