Extreme Performance with Oracle Exadata X3

With a massive boost in flash and DRAM, Oracle Exadata X3 delivers faster applications.

By Tom Haunert

January/February 2013

Following the recent release of Oracle’s Exadata Database Machine X3-2 and X3-8, Tom Haunert, editor in chief of Oracle Magazine, sat down with Juan Loaiza, senior vice president of systems technology at Oracle, to discuss the latest development in Oracle’s engineered systems. The following is an excerpt from that interview. Download the full podcast at

Oracle Magazine: What’s new in Oracle Exadata X3? Loaiza: The big headline feature in Oracle Exadata X3 is that we’ve added a massive amount of flash memory and DRAM [dynamic random access memory]. Previously, Oracle Exadata was primarily a disk-based architecture with a lot of memory and flash to accelerate the performance of disk. It is now primarily a memory and flash-based architecture. With the flash increased by four times, our compression technologies, and the extra DRAM, we think almost all active customer data will fit entirely in memory.

Oracle Magazine: What does the additional flash and the new memory architecture mean for system performance and storage administration?

Loaiza: Having all this extra memory will mean that applications will be able to run much faster, and Oracle Exadata will be much simpler to administer. We have a memory hierarchy, so we automatically put the cold data on disk where it can be stored most cost effectively, and the hot data is automatically migrated into flash and DRAM. From flash, we can achieve 1.5 million random I/Os per second. That’s comparable to the performance of 15,000 disk drives.

Oracle Magazine: What other factors contribute to Oracle Exadata X3 performance improvements?

Loaiza: We have a new software release that takes advantage of the memory architecture. Before, we only cached reads in flash; now we’re able to cache writes in flash. We’re also able to take advantage of the flash memory to achieve very high scan rates of 100 gigabytes per second.

We’ve also increased CPU performance. We’re using the latest 8-core Intel Sandy Bridge processors, which are much faster. And we’ve increased the amount of network throughput: we have up to forty 10-gigabit Ethernet ports going out to the data center.

Oracle Magazine: Earlier releases of Oracle Exadata were sometimes called “cloud in a box. ”How does the latest release, Oracle Exadata X3, fit that nickname?

Loaiza: We’ve put a lot of work into optimizing clouds and consolidating workloads, where you have many different workloads running simultaneously, such as an online transaction processing [OLTP] system, a departmental system, an enterprise resource planning [ERP] system, and a reporting system. One of the things you had to worry about in the past was that one workload would swamp the performance of a different workload.

But now with Oracle Exadata X3 we have a lot of headroom. We went from 50,000 write I/Os per second to 1 million write I/Os per second. That means we’re able to consolidate many more workloads in a database cloud. We also have very powerful workload management capabilities to prioritize across the different workloads in a cloud.

Oracle Magazine: How does Oracle Exadata X3 benefit different workloads, such as data warehousing, OLTP, and packaged applications?

Loaiza: Oracle Exadata X3 provides benefits for all kinds of applications. In data warehousing, we can fit much more data in memory. We now have 22 terabytes of flash memory per rack. If you use our Exadata Hybrid Columnar Compression, you can often fit 100 or 200 terabytes of data purely in flash, access it much faster, and run warehouses much faster. Our uncompressed data throughput from flash is 100 gigabytes per second.

On the OLTP side, the 22 terabytes of flash often allows us to fit the entire OLTP database—certainly the active parts—in flash. So the I/O throughput is much higher. With write caching, we’re able to issue writes directly to flash in addition to reads, and that speeds up OLTP and ERP applications.

We’ve also seen big improvements for batch jobs because we can now service all I/Os from flash. The extra DRAM and flash provide big improvements across the board for all different kinds of applications.

Oracle Magazine: Oracle Exadata X3 systems consume less electrical power than previous releases. How is that possible?

Loaiza: There are a number of improvements in Oracle Exadata to decrease the amount of power consumed. One is that the Intel chipsets that we use just consume less power than they did before. Nevertheless the chips are very fast and hot, so we use considerable energy on fans for cooling. A lot of attention went into the new systems to make sure that the airflow is really good to decrease the amount of power consumed by the fans. These and many other small improvements add up to a decrease in power usage of up to 30 percent.

Oracle Magazine: How do organizations that are using previous releases of Oracle Exadata move to Oracle Exadata X3?

Loaiza: We make it very simple to add capacity to an existing Oracle Exadata system with new Oracle Exadata X3 servers. We’ve always allowed a single database machine to have servers from multiple Oracle Exadata generations. For example, a customer might have a half rack of our previous generation X2 system, and they might want to expand that. So, after the expansion, the customer will have a half rack of Oracle Exadata X2 on the bottom, and the top half of the rack will be Oracle Exadata X3.

Oracle Magazine: How are you seeing Oracle Exadata being used with other Oracle engineered systems?

Loaiza: Many customers are combining our engineered systems and using Oracle Exadata for the database tier, Oracle Exalogic for the middle tier or application tier, and Oracle Exalytics to run analytics. It’s very effective to combine these systems together—we optimize them in-house to work together. We use a single ultra-high-speed InfiniBand fabric to connect all the different Oracle engineered systems.

We’re also seeing a lot of uptake of our Sun ZFS Storage Appliance, which connects using InfiniBand to Oracle Exadata and to Oracle Exalogic.

Many customers are taking advantage of the entire engineered system stack to achieve high performance all the way up and down the stack with no bottlenecks at any level.

Oracle Magazine: What about the cost and return on investment of these systems?

Loaiza: We’ve left the price of the new Oracle Exadata X3 systems exactly the same as the X2 systems. So, we’re delivering a lot more capacity and performance for the exact same price as before. In Oracle Exadata X3, we automatically manage the different storage tiers to provide a system that is both very cost effective and has extreme performance.

Next Steps

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Photography bySumner Mahaffey,Unsplash