Last week at Oracle Open World, much of the mainstage headlines were about cloud, but in the BI space, it was about Exalytics, Oracle’s in-memory engineered system for BI.
Released in February, Exalytics is Oracle’s latest engineered system that leverages the TimesTen in-memory database to provide fast BI. Both the meta data for Oracle BI Enterprise Edition (OBI EE) can be cached in-memory as well as data from the data warehouse and Essbase cubes. For example, customer Sodex cited 10 times faster performance on Essbase cubes running on Exalytics and scaling to 10,000 users. Exalytics integrates with Exadata via a superfast Infiniband connection to allow loads from the data warehouse into the in-memory BI system. The Exalytics Summary Advisor gathers usage statistics on queries to recommend which data should be loaded into memory versus left on disk.
Oracle touts Exadata as the ideal solution for high performance data warehouse, so why would anyone need Exalytics, unless data is in different places or a slow-performing data warehouse? Exalytics customer Thomson Reuters noted that Exalytics has allowed them to have an interactive dashboard on a 10 billion row data set, something not possible on such large data sets before. Exalytics provides performance at the application level by caching OBI EE metadata, while Exadata provides performance at the data level. The Swedish shoe retailer NilsonGroup meanwhile cited easier deployment of OBI EE on optimized hardware, without the need to patch software as they previously had to on commodity hardware.
But it begs the question: should customers have to buy an engineered system to ensure a smooth deployment? One integrator described the software quality in OBI EE 11g as impacting project timelines by months and the security integration with WebLogic as a “train wreck.” As OBI EE (acquired from Siebel in 2005 as Siebel Analytics) has been more integrated with the rest of the Oracle product stack, Oracle has become increasingly dependent on its own middleware, taking a less agnostic approach than other BI vendors. It is also a point of contrast with SAP’s Hana, that has both third-party BI support and multiple hardware vendors. An SAP and Oracle partner who has tested both SAP’s Hana and the Oracle Exadata plus Exalytics combination described Hana as “revolutionary and 1000 times better” but said Exalytics has been only “evolutionary and 10 times better.” With such conflicting views from public customer references verus in-the trenches comments, it is too early in the Exalytics’ product life to say how much customers are sacrificing openness for performance and ease.
The other piece to Exalytics is the 184.108.40.206 release of OBI EE, also released in February, that includes greater dashboard interactivity and improved visualizations. At first glance, the finished charts look as powerful as those in competitive products such as Tableau and TIBCO Spotfire. However, the design interface is less intuitive and there’s a whole lot more complexity to develop dashboards than in those pure-play products. Flexibility and simplicity to develop are challenges not-yet-solved in the Oracle product line.
In addition to OBI EE and Essbase, Endeca Information Discovery also runs on the Exalytics system. Oracle acquired Endeca at the end of 2011 both for its e-commerce technology but also for its navigation of unstructured content, such as warranty claims and twitter streams. The Endeca MDEX engine uses a combination of in-memory and columnar data storage. While Endeca Information Discovery can be deployed on commodity hardware, one system integrator again cited easier deployment on Exalytics. Endeca has a very nice faceted search (think combination Google and any web retailer) interface. While it was encouraging to see this once niche product main staged by Larry Ellison, (Tweets about the olympics) it was frustrating that the product was not available in the BI demo pods. I got a tweet after leaving Open World that it was being showcased in a different building, not near the rest of the BI capabilities.
The bottom line, if you are using OBI EE and hoping for high user or data scale, Oracle is planning on Exalytics as being part of that deployment. The Exalytics sytem is configured for 1 TB Ram, 40 cores, with $170,000 list price.
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard