UK Oracle User Group

A Silicon Expression of Oracle Strategy

27 January 2016

Oracle is a leader in cloud services and software. But that’s not the whole story. The new SPARC M7 processor is the epitome of Oracle’s hardware-software engineering effort.

“We’re really about providing very highly integrated and co-engineered products that include hardware and software,” says John Fowler, executive vice president, systems.

Oracle again demonstrated that prowess at its Oracle OpenWorld 2015 conference, introducing new servers based on its latest microprocessor, the SPARC M7, which incorporates unique hard-wired security and performance functions using a technique known as “software in silicon.”

The new SPARC T7 and M7 servers, along with an updated engineered system, Oracle SuperCluster M7, also feature a new release of the Oracle Solaris operating system with its own enhanced security features. Together, these new systems represent a big boost in enterprise application performance and data center integrity at a time when they couldn’t be more needed.

The SPARC M7 is the result of five-and-a-half years of co-development by engineers from Oracle and Sun Microsystems, which Oracle acquired in 2010. Their goal was to incorporate certain functions normally found in software directly into the microprocessor itself. “It’s the product of a very disciplined, empirical, and engineering-driven activity,” says Fowler.

It’s also representative of Oracle’s approach to technology innovation, and its commitment to maintaining its leadership in the IT industry. “I see the SPARC M7 as a silicon expression of Oracle’s strategy,” Fowler says.

Security Matters at Every Level of the Data Center

The SPARC M7 incorporates silicon-embedded advancements primarily in two areas: security and performance.

First, the SPARC M7 accelerates data encryption through “cryptographic units” integrated in each of its 32 cores. And by incorporating very high-performance encryption in the chip, Fowler says, the M7 is able to not only secure data quickly but also devote substantial processor resources to additional projects, resources that otherwise would be occupied encrypting data at the software layer.

“The future data center is completely encrypted,” Fowler says, “and this is the first processor that enables that.”

Another advanced security capability hard-wired into the SPARC M7 involves memory protection. Known as Silicon Secured Memory, this feature recognizes an illegal memory reference—when an application attempts to access memory that’s dedicated to another application—and stops it. Illegal memory references cause vulnerabilities like buffer overflows that hackers can exploit.

Because Silicon Secured Memory works at the processor level, it has minimal performance overhead, unlike software, which affects processing significantly. It’s not only a security feature—it’s a programming best-practices tool “which, when added to the processor, and enabled for all applications, can eliminate a pretty broad class of compromises,” Fowler says.

In terms of performance, the SPARC M7 chip speeds up in-memory database operations by dispatching duties—scanning data and joining rows—normally performed in SQL (structured query language) processing. Accelerator “engines” built directly onto the processor perform the Database In-Memory Query Acceleration functions.

Another hard-wired performance feature, “In-line Decompression,” automatically decompresses data that’s been compressed in conjunction with an in-memory database. In fact, the SPARC M7 does the decompression at the same time it’s performing data scans, which makes both functions highly efficient and effective.

New Servers Provide Entry Points

The new standalone servers, SPARC T7 and SPARC M7, provide entry points that take advantage of the new processor’s unique embedded performance and security functions. The new version of Oracle Solaris, 11.3, contributes to end-to-end security by supporting network encryption as well as “live” transfers of encrypted virtual machines from one server to another.

Also, customers can be sure that the applications they’re running on their current SPARC T and SPARC M servers will transfer to the new systems—and exploit the new processor—without effort. “We’re not making people rewrite anything,” Fowler says. “We were very careful to keep application compatibility.”

The new Oracle SuperCluster M7 is an engineered system—a complete kit of highly customized, tightly tuned hardware, software, and networking. The new SPARC M7 processor, in conjunction with Oracle Solaris 11.3, enhances the high-performance server cluster’s security and processing capabilities, which are intended to support mission-critical applications and on-premises cloud implementations. Oracle SuperCluster M7 provides so much bang for the buck, Fowler says, “it could be the bargain in computing today.”

Customers can expect to see SPARC M7-based servers available in the public Oracle Cloud, specifically as compute options in Oracle’s infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings. Oracle already provides a “Software in Silicon Cloud,” where developers can test their applications on the new processor and use its Silicon Secured Memory feature to help de-bug their code.

The First of the Capability Generation

The SPARC M7 features one other achievement worth noting: “We wanted to make sure we had the world’s fastest commercial microprocessor,” says Fowler. Benchmarks may vary, but the SPARC M7’s industry-leading 32 cores, with up to 256 threads (eight per core), guarantee a barnburner in terms of business operations.

Nevertheless, the strategy of simply piling on additional processor cores is arriving at a point of diminishing returns, Fowler believes. “The next decade is going to be about doing more in terms of embedding software functions on the chips,” he says, “and SPARC M7 is the first in this ‘capability generation.’ ”

Feats of engineering like this are rare in today’s IT environment, Fowler points out, because they’re extraordinarily expensive and long in coming to fruition. “Oracle has both the economic capability plus the intellectual property capability to undertake this kind of project,” he says.

And Oracle relishes the challenge. “It’s about how the next decade of server microprocessors is going to evolve,” Fowler says, “and we’re very happy to be first out of the gate with these specialized capabilities.”


Written by: John Soat, Oracle

Originaly sourced:

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