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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.

"That's how we can prevent a piece of malware from accessing a memory segment it's not authorized to, because it will do that color code checking and abort the program if it doesn't match," Chou said.

The feature is significant because customers are putting larger amounts of data in memory for analytics, where it's more to vulnerable to attack. The secured memory technology will be available to any application that runs on the M7 systems, Chou said, not just those from Oracle. It can also uncover low-level bugs in software because it exposes any problems with memory allocation, he said.

For decompression, the accelerator in the chip runs at the full speed of Oracle's in-memory database, meaning customers can use compressed data for in-memory computing without the performance overhead they would normally incur.

Oracle is offering the M7 chip both in its T-series servers, used for scale-out configurations, and in its M-series servers, which scale up to form big SMP boxes. It's the first time Oracle will use the same processor across both product lines. "We literally have one chip," Chou said. "We have exactly one part number for the M7."

The processor has 32 cores, up from 12 in the M6, and a clock speed that tops out 15 percent faster, at 4.1GHz. It has four times the cache per core as its predecessor, and doubles memory bandwidth.

Oracle claims its new servers run common benchmarks like SpecJ with full encryption and still best those of rivals like IBM. Real world performance will depend on a lot of customer-specific variables, but the M7 looks like a powerful chip.

The T series servers are offered with one, two and four processor sockets, and the M series servers with eight to 16 sockets. That's fewer than the 32-socket configurations supported by the M6, but Oracle apparently wasn't seeing a lot of demand for the biggest configurations. "We think 16-way will be very sufficient," Chou said.

The new servers also allow for live migration of virtual machines while encrypted, for tasks like disaster recovery or planned maintenance.

"If you have a rogue employee who puts a packet sniffer on the network, or malware that's able to commandeer VMs in transit, you'll get nothing back in terms of usable data," he said.

Oracle needs the new capabilities if it's going to win new customers for its hardware, at a time when the Unix market overall is declining and customers are putting more workloads into the cloud.

"The biggest challenge Oracle is facing is that it's still an uphill battle to get people who aren't already using Sparc and Solaris to move onto anything that isn't broadly industry standard," Brookwood said.

But Ellison has shown shown a continued willingness to invest in Sparc.

"He has the resources to keep this going as long as he wants, and that's important," Brookwood said. "It's a luxury Sun never had."


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