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Oracle’s Secret Weapon in the Cloud

The new SPARC S7 is engineered for security and performance.

by John Foley

September 2016

Oracle recently launched the SPARC S7 microprocessor, a designed-for-the-cloud chip that is the latest in a long line of advanced RISC microprocessors.

The SPARC S7 is closely related to the SPARC M7, unveiled in October 2015. Both are used within Oracle’s engineered systems and RISC servers, which power Oracle Cloud and many other clouds.

In this Profit interview, John Fowler, executive vice president of systems at Oracle, explains how the SPARC S7 brings new levels of performance, efficiency, and security to the cloud.

Profit: How is Oracle’s new SPARC S7 different from the SPARC M7?

Fowler: The SPARC M7 had breakthrough technology. What we were trying to do was really improve security with Silicon Secured Memory and encryption, and greatly improve the efficiency of analytics applications by putting some logic in the processor design that helped with analyzing and scanning data. We think that’s really the next 10 years of processor evolution. It’s not just cores and performance, but putting in more specific features to help software.

What we decided to do in the SPARC S7 is take those same core technologies and bring them to horizontal scale and highly scale-out price points.

Profit: Why does Oracle, a cloud company, continue to invest in creating the world’s most advanced microprocessors?

Fowler: We are working to build the world’s best infrastructure for customers, and we want them to be able to use x86 and also RISC microprocessors. In the case of SPARC, we’re able to put in unique features based on our understanding of software. So for example, we’ve incorporated security features and integrated data-analytics acceleration.

Profit: Why and how does Oracle remain such a good partner with Intel?

Fowler: We partner with Intel to make all of our software work and build a full family of hardware products around Intel. It’s not either/or. It’s really an and strategy. x86 and SPARC give customers choice.

Profit: At the SPARC S7 launch, you emphasized three themes: security, efficiency, and simplicity. Why those three things?

Fowler: Cloud computing exacerbates many of the technical challenges people have in enterprise computing. By its very nature, you’re sharing resources, so security becomes even more important. The second thing is, since you’re sharing resources and infrastructure, you want to be as efficient as possible because that’s a basic cost equation. And finally, what people expect of the cloud is the ability to rapidly provision new services and go compete by moving quickly.

Profit: How do the new SPARC processors make these environments more secure?

We are working to build the world’s best infrastructure for customers, and we want them to be able to use x86 and also RISC microprocessors.”–John Fowler, Executive Vice President, Systems, Oracle

Fowler: We built in a very wide capability of encryption of the chip, but more importantly, we built in dedicated processor resources to handle encryption. What this means is your application can run at virtually the same performance encrypted as unencrypted.

The second big area we worked on was protecting memory. Since an application can access any memory it’s entitled to, we added a technical capability so an application can’t do that unless it has a matching key for all types of memory.

Profit: What are the benefits of using the new SPARC processors in Oracle’s own cloud environment?

Fowler: We deploy both x86 and SPARC in our cloud. Customers can choose to use SPARC, and what they gain are advanced security—the encryption and memory protection—as well as very high performance and efficiency per core.

Profit: Oracle also recently released a SPARC-based Oracle Compute Cloud service. How is it different from other cloud infrastructure services?

Fowler: It’s different because it offers SPARC. From Oracle, you can get both x86 and SPARC infrastructure as a service. They’re priced identically. We expect to see customers that are interested in higher levels of mission-critical security or doing data-analytics type applications, because that is where SPARC is differentiated.

Profit: What is the Data Analytics Accelerator in SPARC processors?

Fowler: The Data Analytics Accelerator is able to scan very large amounts of data for strings and filter and decompress data from memory, and it does it at an enormous rate. The software support for this is integrated into Oracle Database 12c today. We’ve opened up the programming interface and created a developer community around this.

Profit: What about the need for interoperability between on-premises and public clouds?

Fowler: We believe the next decade is about enterprises making choices between using cloud services, platform as a service, infrastructure as a service, and on-premises computing. We’ve linked the management tools and the provisioning tools so that if you want to straddle these worlds—move workloads back and forth—you can.

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