Oracle is set to take the plunge into the hardware market. CEO Larry Ellison has announced two high-end servers, developed in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard that have been designed to tackle data warehousing applications.

Speaking at the company's Openworld conference, Ellison called the servers "Oracle's first hardware products,"

The servers, HP Oracle Database Machine and the HP Oracle Exadata Storage Server, are preconfigured server racks which include Oracle software and HP ProLiant servers.

The Exadata Storage Server includes a dozen disk drives and two quad-core Intel processors that are used to perform database query operations on the storage equipment itself, reducing the amount of data that has to be shuttled back to the database server. This gives a 10-fold performance boost compared to Oracle's current data warehouse products, according to Ellison.

"The storage system itself runs the Oracle database's fast parallel query software, so we took the capability you normally find in the database servers and moved it into the storage server next to each and every disk drive," Ellison said.

"We're taking a tremendous load off the interconnect between the server and the storage grid, returning just the query results instead of whole data blocks. It makes a huge difference," he added.

The storage servers can be ordered separately for use with an existing Oracle data warehouse, or as part of the HP Oracle Database Machine, which includes eight Oracle database servers and 14 Exadata Storage Servers in one rack. The database servers include 64 Intel processor cores, Oracle's business intelligence software and its Real Application Clusters technology.

Each storage server is connected to the database server with two InfiniBand pipes. Each can carry data at 20Gbit/s, but the speed of the system is limited to the speed of the disk drives, which limit the throughput speed to 1G bits per second, Ellison said. The Storage Servers include up to 168TB of storage, he said.

The Linux version of the Database Machine is available immediately, he said, with support for other operating systems to follow. He said the Exadata Storage Server will work with "any Oracle database server," suggesting customers won't have to be using the current 11g version for their data warehouse.

The Database Machine is priced at $4,000 (£2,150) per terabyte of storage, plus the database licence costs, Oracle said. The systems can be ordered from Oracle, and Oracle will be responsible for sales and support, while HP will handle the delivery and servicing of the hardware.

As Oracle enters the hardware game, data in the enterprise "is proliferating at astonishingly high rates," Ellison said.

"That creates a fundamental problem. The disk storage systems that are available today ... can store 10, 100T bytes of data, but they can't move that data off the disks and into the database servers very fast," he said.

There are two ways to solve the data bandwidth problem, he said: reduce the amount of data going through the pipes or make the pipes wider. Oracle did both, he said.

He claimed the resulting product is much faster than competing data warehousing systems like those sold by Teradata and Netezza.

Forrester Research analyst James Kobielus blogged that the products were "a bold move into petabyte scale-out territory, an emerging, very-high-end niche in which one veteran vendor, Teradata, has been pre-eminent."

Kobielus also saw a challenge to Netezza.

"Like that vendor's appliance, the Oracle Database Machine offloads SQL query processing and large-table scans to an intelligent storage layer," he wrote. "Whereas Netezza uses a technique that involves field-programmable gate arrays, Oracle has leveraged its 11g technology to parallelise query/scan execution to a massively parallel pool of Exadata storage cells."

Oracle's storage layer is transparent to applications, meaning they don't need to be rewritten to see performance gains, he wrote. That said, Oracle is "just one of several [data warehouse] vendors that have petabyte-scale solutions. It's best not to get all whipped up in a lather by an artfully constructed event-based marketing tease."