Oracle says its widely deployed database software can now run on Arm, in a landmark move that emphasises the extent of the threat to Intel’s long-standing dominance when it comes to enterprise computing workloads.
That's down in large part to an increasingly close relationship with upstart chip maker Ampere, founded in 2017 by Intel veteran Renée James.
(Ampere makes the Arm architecture-based semiconductors Oracle is using. Oracle has also quietly invested almost $1 billion in firm. SEC filings show that in fiscal 2022, Oracle bought $50.9 million of its chips.)
Oracle Database on Arm: For 19c Enterprise Edition
Oracle Database 19c Enterprise Edition (the current long-term support release can be powered by Ampere semiconductors (built on the Arm-architecture) in the cloud or on-premises, Oracle said on June 28.
Oracle was a comparatively early adopter of Ampere semiconductors for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) compute, but this is the first time its nearly ubiquitous database has been able to run on the architecture.
““We get more performance for dramatically less cost,” Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison at an Ampere event in Menlo Park, California on June 28.
“We have much better economics… We think this is the future.”
Oracle Database 19c costs "half as much" running on Ampere Altra chips, Oracle claimed, saying that those deploying it via on-prem hardware based on Ampere processors can "take advantage of partitioning in Oracle Linux for Arm to further optimize software licensing costs.”
"Oracle databases running on existing platforms can use Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN) to back up databases on their existing platform and restore to the Arm platform. All supported features of Oracle Database 19c are available on the Arm platform as well" the company said.
"The OCI Ampere A1 database shape is based on the Ampere Altra processor with single-threaded cores, which means no sharing of the execution engine, registers, and L1/L2 cache between threads” it added.
“These processors are now available… from 1- 57 OCPUs (a measurement of CPU firepower) with 8 GB of memory per OCPU, up to a total of 456 GB and 1 Gbps of network bandwidth per OCPU, up to a total of 40 Gbps.”
The announcement follows Apple’s and AWS decisions in recent years to build their own customised Arm semiconductors – which offer high levels of energy efficiency. Microsoft also took Ampere-processor powered Azure VMs GA in September 1, 2022 with the VMs "engineered to efficiently run scale-out, cloud-native workloads" Microsoft said.
(Microsoft said at the time that the Azure VMs running on Ampere chips offer 50% better price-performance than x86-based VMs for scale-out workloads, suggesting that use cases were likely to span everything from web servers, application servers, open-source databases, cloud-native and rich .NET applications, Java apps, gaming servers and more.)
Arm and x86 are very different. In x86, the hardware components, like graphic cards, storage, and the CPU are independent of each other, with components that can be expanded without affecting connectivity or the overall hardware platform. Arm processors by contrast do not have a separate CPU, but rather, the processing unit is on the same physical substrate as the other hardware controllers as an integrated circuit.
Because Arm is an open architecture, the hardware for each Arm design is unique and can be heavily customised. Ampere has been rapidly building up its portfolio of data centre-ready Arm-based semiconductors. Its customers include cloud heavyweights Azure, GCP, OCI as well as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, and OEMs like HPE and Supermicro.
But getting major enterprise applications like Oracle Database on Arm has been a challenge. Traditionally, rebuilding an app for Arm has meant recompiling the entire application: an "all-or-nothing" move, since all the binaries within a process need to be rebuilt before a customer can see the benefit – and early moves to do this resulted in some buggy performance.
Adobe is among the other companies that has been working to get applications like Lightroom running on Arm, whilst Microsoft has pushed out guidance and tools to get applications working on Windows 11 for Arm.
In a FinOps and sustainability-minded world, where driving down energy demand is critical, Arm is very much on the up however and Oracle's move is likely to attract a lot of customer attention, as well as Intel's...