Oracle Aims To Sparc Sales with New Chip


A new processor rolling out today at Oracle’s OpenWorld event in San Francisco is promising to provide a major boost to the company’s server lines. Labeled the M7, the microprocessor is Oracle’s latest version of the Sparc technology it acquired when it bought out Sun Microsystems in 2010.

While the M7 comes with the typical hardware upgrades expected with each new processor generation, Oracle is focusing on the chip’s software capabilities. The company said that the software techniques embedded into the silicon will not only provide major improvements to system speeds, but will also help guard against programming errors that can yield serioussecurity vulnerabilities.

Better Data Analytics, Database Performance

The M7’s hardwired functions, known as Software in Silicon, are designed primarily to address two major issues in modern enterprise technology: data analytics andcloud computing, the company said. Several of the features are geared specifically to improving database performance with an eye toward powering businessintelligence applications.

To improve database performance, data query accelerator software is hardwired directly into the processor. A query accelerator engine performs specific lookup functions that are part of the data query process, which the company said can improve performance by up to 10 times.

The M7 offers about 160 gigabytes of usable memory bandwidth. The data analytics accelerators (DAX) use 160 gigabytes of peak bandwidth; each DAX unit has four query pipelines, and each M7 can incorporate up to eight DAX units. “We can run at full memory bandwidth using those DAX units, supplying all 32 of those query pipelines,” according to Rick Hetherington, Oracle's vice president of hardware development. “If we can peg memory bandwidth, that’s about as fast as you can go.”

Improved Data Integrity

In addition, Oracle has hardwired several programming features designed to detect programming errors directly into the chip. For example, memory reference problems, such as dangling pointers and buffer overflows, result from programming errors that allow applications to access memory locations not allocated to them, Hetherington said.

The technology, known as application data integrity (ADI), assigns a particular four-bit field to memory and to the pointers that point to that memory during the memory allocation process. That essentially creates unique markers that designate specific memory locations.

When a pointer attempts to access a certain memory location, the hardware checks to ensure the two markers match. If they don’t, the operating system is alerted that there’s been an illegal memory reference, preventing corruption of the database, Hetherington said.

In addition to helping avoid data corruption, the new functionality should provide an extra level of security. Buffer overflows have been a common means of systemattack recently, with headline-grabbing exploits like Heartbleed taking advantage of the vulnerability. Oracle said ADI can detect and block those kinds of memory problems, basically safeguarding internal data stores made vulnerable by buggy internal or third-party applications.