Two years on, Virgin happy with Exadata


news When it was first revealed in 2008, Oracle’s Exadata machine was an unproven new factor; its new model tying Oracle’s software to a specific hardware platform for the first time. But two years after its implementation, one of the first Australian customers to deploy an Exadata has praised the platform, giving credence to the idea that it has earnt its place.

The Exadata server is fundamentally a database appliance which was designed by Oracle in collaboration with HP leading up to its launch in 2008, although future versions of the machine would be influence by Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems in 2009. At the time, the launch of the machine was controversial, as Oracle’s software had in the past often found a home on servers built by independent companies; it was commonly paired with HP, IBM or Sun machines, for example, and many in the industry wondered if the model could fly, given the competition from more specialised hardware partners.

The key selling point for Exadata was that Oracle claimed its customised design would offer a huge performance boost over traditional independent server machines, through a combination of factors including better input/output data handling (you can find a full rundown here).

According to Virgin Mobile Australia, which alongside the Commonwealth Bank was one of the first customers of the platform (putting it at the centre of a substantial data warehouse overhaul back in April 2010), the platform has lived up to its promises over time. In a statement issued by Oracle, Surjit Sharma, Virgin Mobile’s head of business intelligence, said that the “most striking” thing about its Exadata implementation had been the productivity benefits delivered to the telco.

“We chose to move to Oracle Exadata as the performance of our previous hardware infrastructure didn’t come close to meeting our requirements. The implementation has been more than a simple infrastructure upgrade,” Sharma said. “Previously our internal stakeholders were waiting a full business day to analyse data, but now we can build report packs where the information is pre-built and available to us in a fraction of the time.”

“Through its faster delivery of data, and its greater grunt and capacity, Oracle Exadata has allowed Virgin Mobile to be more innovative in the ways we use and analyse information,” Sharma added. “Business intelligence has become a valuable information asset to our company. In the future, we hope to run near real-time campaigns, which requires near real-time data warehousing, and we believe that we now have a system in place to deliver on that.”

Oracle’s statement claimed that reports could be delivered ten to fifteen times faster to Virgin Mobile through the Exadata implementation.

“For example, the time required to run daily data warehouse load has been reduced by half to 7.5 hours,” Oracle’s statement said. “As a result, sales reports are delivered to the business one day earlier, providing the sales team with much more timely information and the capability to analyse that information in order to effectively manage their accounts. Virgin Mobile now has the potential to run near real-time campaigns. For example, welcoming and offering incentives to customers as soon as they join goes a long way to retaining them, and can only be achieved with near real-time data warehousing.”

In April this year, Computerworld reported that US-based customers who attended the Collaborate conference held by the Independent Oracle Users Group that month also verified that the Exadata could meet the performance hype which Oracle had sprad around the machine. However, they also stipulated that such performance came with a hefty price tag — both in terms of the actual cost of the Exadata machine, as well as the specialised skills required to integrate the new breed of infrastructure into their environments.

Other Australian customers known to have implemented the Exadata machine include the Commonwealth Bank, AUSTRAC, Australian Hearing and the Australian Finance Group.

I’ve been fascinated to see the progress which Exadata has made in the Australian market over the past few years. I was particularly interested to see whether Oracle’s claim of integrated hardware and software (perhaps influenced by Larry Ellison’s relationship with Apple supremo Steve Jobs?) with the product line would be adopted by customers who have long been suspicious of apparent attempts by Oracle to lock them into using its product line through various technical approaches.

What has surprised me over that period has been the variety of organisations which have deployed the Exadata. Of course, we were always going to see organisations the size of the Commonwealth Bank deploy one — an organisation with hundreds of millions of dollars in IT spend every year will almost by definition test out any significant new technology which comes onto the market — but organisations such as the Australian Finance Group and Australian Hearing are nowhere near to that scale, and neither is Virgin Mobile, which is essentially a marketing arm for Optus’ mobile network.

I won’t say that the Exadata is going to be the best solution for most situations requiring powerful database processing, and of course we need to take the positive statements above by Virgin and Oracle with a huge grain of salt, but in general it does seem as though the Exadata product line has earned its stripes. It will be interesting to see to what extent it can supplant more traditional database servers in other organisations around Australia over the next few years.

And of course I always love the sense of nostalgia you get when you see the Sun Microsystems logo on the side of a huge Oracle server, as we did in the recent hit movie The Avengers. Sun is gone, but its memory still lingers on. Pity there are no MySQL appliances or we might get the same feeling ;)

Image credit: Oracle


  1. Hmmm.. Looks like a direct competitor to Teradata hardware/software.. Will be interesting to do some more research on it..

  2. “Pity there are no MySQL appliances or we might get the same feeling”

    I too have wondered why such database appliances (not necessarily with MySQL) haven’t become prominent in the small to medium end of the business market. Stripped operating system and tweaked solely to DB serving. Minimal Web Service for control / database control. Perhaps application vendors have been less supportive than at the big end where Oracle can dictate terms including supplying their own software.

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