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Oracle just made its biggest Sparc announcement since buying Sun

James Niccolai | Oct. 27, 2015
The M7 is the first Sparc processor designed from the ground up by Oracle.

Larry Ellison speaks at Oracle's OpenWorld conference. Will he show up at Dreamforce?
Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison. Credit: Oracle

When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems five years ago, Larry Ellison made a lot of noise about how owning the entire systems stack, from applications to silicon, would allow him to do unique things with Oracle's servers. After five years of bluster and hype, he may finally have delivered -- but will customers buy what he's selling?

Oracle is announcing a new line of servers at OpenWorld on Monday based on a new Sparc processor called the M7. It has the usual improvements you'd expect in a new chip -- more cores, bigger caches, higher bandwidth -- but more interesting are software functions Oracle has embedded into the silicon to improve the performance and security of applications.

They include a memory protection technology that could provide a new level of security for in-memory databases, and an acceleration engine that allows data to be decompressed in near-real time for analytics, allowing for wider use of compressed data.

"Both of those are very interesting, because they're features I don't think a company that makes just chips -- that didn't have the software guys working with them -- would have invented," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight64.

With each new processor Oracle has released, he says, he asked the company what new features it was able to include as a result of owning both the silicon and software. "Invariably they would say, well, you know, it takes time to do that, we don't really have anything yet," he said. "But with the M7, they do."

It's also the first new Sparc processor core designed entirely in-house by Oracle. It takes four to six years to design a new microprocessor, and it's been that long since Oracle bought Sun. "This is the first project that has Larry's fingerprints all over it," said Marshall Chou, Oracle senior director for Optimized Solutions.

The M7 went on sale yesterday in new models of Oracle's T- and M-series servers, as well as an upgrade to the Oracle Supercluster, a pre-configured system for running the Oracle database.

The memory protection technology, dubbed "silicon-secured memory," prevents malicious programs from accessing parts of main memory that they're not supposed to -- thwarting a common attack method for hackers.

When an application needs a new chunk of memory, the M7 creates a unique "color bit," or key, which ensures the application can access only the portion of memory assigned to it. When the application process ends, the key expires and a new one is created for the next memory allocation.


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