At last the wait is over – Oracle’s new M7 processor

At last the wait is over – Oracle’s new M7 processor

Ever since Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems in 2010, many questioned Oracle’s intentions for the acquisition. After all, Oracle was a software company that had been traveling down the path of Linux and x86 ever since releasing Oracle 10g and RAC, which allowed organizations to move database loads from very expensive SMP and mainframes systems to infrastructures that utilized low costs x86 servers.

Many believed it was purely to acquire the rights to Java. Others expanded that belief to include the Solaris operating system, since the convergence of Open-source operating systems and Commercial software isn’t always ideal from a support standpoint.

From the beginning, Oracle expressed that the reason for the purchase of Sun Microsystem was to cease being a software company and to reemerge as an enterprise information technology company on par to deliver solutions and services with the likes of IBM and HP.

Although the Sun Microsystem’s portfolio was strong, it did suffer in one critical area that would be challenging for Oracle’s vision of the single vendor integrated stack delivering the best, most reliable services from the application, middleware, database levels straight through the operating, virtualization, hardware and storage layers. That component was the legendary SPARC processor, which had suffered greatly as a result of Sun Microsystem’s change of fortune following the Dot-com bust at the turn of the millennium.

Sun Microsystem’s downturn in 2000 wasn’t enough however to prevent the inception of the processor’s future. With the ceiling on processor clock speeds practically reached given current technologies, the only way to continue to go up was massive SMP scalability at the application, operating system and processor levels. This realization by Sun Microsystem’s engineers in early 2000s was the genesis behind both Solaris 10, which featured the world’s first massively scalable highly threaded SMP operating system and the UltraSPARC T-series “Coolthreads” SMP architecture, which provided abundant execution pipelines for those threads to consume. Early UltraSPARC T-series processors however, suffered from both technical challenges as well as funding challenges as its development progressed. Although things steadily improved with UltraSPARC T-series architecture, by the time Oracle purchased Sun Microsystem the SPARC processor had long since lost its reputation as a powerhouse processor.

As Oracle began to pursue its vision of the integrated stack and “Oracle on Oracle”, there were many us who knew the hard road ahead as it pertained to the future of Oracle’s SPARC processor. Often there were reassurances from Oracle concerning its backing of SPARC, but what was frequently missing and so eloquently conveyed by Rod Tidwell to Jerry Maguire was the “Show me the money” results proving this fact.

The wait is over. Oracle’s new M7 processor is not only the money, it’s revolutionary on a number of fronts. Oracle created the M7 processor as an optimized processor for enterprise software, both Oracle’s own as well as others.

Upon close inspection, the M7 has no comparison or rival in the x86 processor world. 32 cores per processor operating at 4.13 GHz clock speed supporting 8 threads per core. Massive RAM and IO bandwidth pipelines engineered on chip. Huge amounts of L1, L2 and L3 chip cache per core. As well as 8-way SMP processor architectures using glueless logic and 16-way SMP processor architectures using switch ASICs. Just on the surface the new M7 screams king of the hill, but Oracle didn’t stop there.

Oracle up the ante with an innovative new feature called Security in Silicon, the first-ever hardware-based memory protection for both applications and operating systems running upon it. A major inroad for security exploits is malicious code that can access and/or overwrite memory it shouldn’t have access to. Two recent examples are the infamous Heartbleed attack (buffer over-read attack) and Venom (over-write attack) which both had devastating impacts throughout the IT industry. Silicon secured memory can help prevent both types of these very common exploit methods. How it works is pretty simple, hidden bits are added to memory pointers as well as the in-memory content. If there’s not a match in the hidden bits when a thread accesses memory, the access is aborted and trapped for further processing. Because it’s based in hardware, Security in Silicon can run all the time with no performance impact.

Exploits are only one part of today’s security landscape, Data leakage is the other major component. To date the most effective means to prevent data leakage is encryption, however the high performance penalty of encrypting data has kept this key security tool from being effectively used everywhere. Oracle solved this problem with the M7 processor by designing new dedicated crypto engines, 32 of them per processor to be exact, supporting the broadest range of ciphers in the industry. This powerful design allows encryption to be “Always on by default”, with almost no degradation in performance. Oracle has promised that in subsequent releases of both the Solaris operating system as well as Oracle databases software, encryption of things such as ZFS file systems and Oracle database tables will no longer be an option when it is detected that a M7 processor is present. CTO’s can now sleep soundly at night knowing Oracle has them covered.

As fantastic as the Security in Silicon and encryptions capabilities are in Oracle’s new M7 processor, one must admit that it can be leap-frogged by other processor manufactures. In the war of escalation, these impressive technologies only win the battle but do not end the war. Oracle’s war ending technology in the M7 processor is its last feature referred to as “Software in Silicon” or in the case of the M7 processor, “SQL in Silicon”. The M7 processor has two unique “SQL in Silicon” capabilities implemented on chip in a co-processor known as the DAX or data analytics accelerator.

The first “SQL in Silicon” feature of the DAX leverages the ability of Oracle 12c database to support dual formats in memory. Row format for typical OLTP type transactions and columns format for analytics. The DAX engine is able to load multiple columnar values from main memory into special registers, and scan them completely independently of the core processor. The result are spectacular as each processor in a SMP system will have the ability to scan tens of billions values per second, per processor. Nothing else will or can ever come close to its performance as it is only possible when the entire stack is developed to work as one.

The second “SQL in Silicon” feature of the DAX is a set of special memory decompression engines that can unpack in-memory database values at full memory speed with zero performance impact. In fact, the memory decompression engines actually accelerate performance of these types of transactions because of the bandwidth limits associated with memory access. Use of these special memory decompression engines will drastically reduce the amount of memory needed to support dual formats in memory thus allowing for wider adoption and use.

The combination of both of these “SQL in Silicon” in a Single or RAC database instance running on M7 processors will eliminate the need for additional and often dedicated database infrastructures for Data Analytics.

Of course Oracle’s biggest coup with the release of the M7 processor has to be the fact that all of these war ending benefits that come with Oracle’s enterprise grade SPARC servers running M7 processors can be had for the equivalent price of an x86 environment pieced together from a multitude of vendors. Yes you heard me correctly, you can get a premium, single vendor enterprise quality SPARC infrastructure for the price of commodity x86.

In March 2016, I constructed and priced a Dell x86 server using Dell’s website complete with all of the virtualization software, operating systems and technical support typical of a commodity x86 server. Details of my build are found below:

  • PowerEdge R820 (Total: 32-cores, 256GB RAM, 4x-600GB Drives, 4x-10Gb network ports, 3 years HW/SW Support) consisting of:
    • 4x Intel Xeon E5-4650 CPUs (2.70GHz 8-cores)
    • 32x 8GB DIMM
    • 4x 600GB 10K RPM HDD
    • VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus: 4Socket License, 3yr Subscription
    • Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.X Premium Subscription 4Socket License, 3yr Subscription
    • Dell ProSupport Plus: 3 Years

Total acquisition cost for the Hardware/OS/Virtualization/Support:          $55,282

At the same time, I constructed and priced an Oracle M7 SPARC server using Oracle’s website complete with all of the virtualization software, operating systems and technical support typical of a premium Oracle enterprise SPARC server. Details of my build are found below:

  • Oracle SPARC T7-1 Server (Total: 32-cores, 256GB RAM, 4x-600GB Drives, 4x-10Gb network ports, 3 years HW/SW Support) consisting of:
    • 1x SPARC M7 CPU (4.133GHz 32-cores)
    • 16x 16GB DIMM
    • 4x 600GB 10K RPM HDD
    • Oracle Solaris 11 (included)
    • Oracle VM for SPARC (included)
    • Oracle Premier Support: 3 Years

Total acquisition cost for the Hardware/OS/Virtualization/Support:          $61,104

Yes, you are reading this correctly, there is only 10% price difference between the premium single vendor Oracle solution and the multivendor commodity x86 processors. When factoring the performance difference between servers running Oracle M7 processors and servers running commodity x86 processors, especially as it pertains to the Oracle software stack such as Oracle 12c databases, it becomes immediately apparent the potential savings that are possible by running “Oracle on Oracle” without the need for complex equations involving the price of tea in china among other things to calculate questionable TCO’s.

At last the wait is over. Oracle has finally “Shown the money” and now it is only up to you benefit from all that the M7 processor and the “Oracle on Oracle” vision offers.


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