Analyst Quick Take: Oracle Database On Arm

By Patrick Moorhead, Matt Kimball - July 14, 2023

Oracle announced that its database’s current long-term support release (Oracle Database 19c Enterprise Edition) is certified and available for Arm – both on-premises and in the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) A1 instances, powered by Ampere Altra processors. What does this mean for Ampere, and why did Oracle make this move? I’ll give the details and my opinion in the following few sections.

Ampere gets a boost

This announcement comes as a surprise to this analyst. While Ampere has been doing quite well in establishing itself in the cloud, it has yet to establish a foothold in the enterprise. And frankly, the company has not been setting its sights on the enterprise datacenter in the near term. The Arm Neoverse microarchitecture (upon which Ampere is built) is tailor-made for the cloud with lots of single-threaded cores that deliver good performance in a lower power envelope.

With the above said, this should validate Ampere (and the larger Arm ecosystem) in those enterprise IT organizations sitting back and waiting for such an event.

Oracle used three methods to boost its vested interest in Ampere’s success (the company has invested about $800 million to date). First, it used the power of the pulpit. In talking about his support for Ampere, Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison announced that the company would spend “a significant amount of money” on CPUs from Ampere and x86 chip maker AMD. In this, he declared Intel as having “reached its limits.” I disagree with the chairman on this point, but his proclamation that he is directing his CPU spend toward these two companies is very telling. And it puts Ampere on equal footing with x86 in his framing of the discussion.

Secondly, Oracle provides attractive licensing for Arm deployments on-prem (support is not limited to Ampere). The company is assigning a core factor of .25 to its license. This means that in this “per core” based licensing, Arm customers only pay 25% of the per core cost for 19c. By contrast, AMD and Intel have a core factor of .5.

During his event, Mr. Ellison estimated this would cut licensing costs in half relative to deploying on x86. It’s also important to note that this .25 core factor is the same core factor applied to deploying on Oracle’s SPARC processors.

Finally, Oracle made migration as frictionless as possible. If you’re an existing 19c customer and want to deploy on Arm, use Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN) to back up databases and restore them on the Arm platform.

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With this move, Oracle has made Ampere and the AmpereOne processor a first-class platform worth considering. There is no defeaturing of capabilities, and Oracle features when running on Arm v x86. And with regards to performance, Oracle is claiming some level of performance leadership due to the single-threaded nature of AmpereOne. I hope that there will quickly be some numbers that demonstrate this performance leadership. Oracle has been bullish about performance comparisons in the past; I expect this approach will continue.

Is this more than simply bolstering support for Ampere?

It’s understandable to be cynical in reading the news and some statements about Oracle’s support for Ampere. But, even with cynicism, this is a big deal. Amazon validated Arm in the cloud when it deployed its Graviton CPU-based instances. This removed some of the barriers for Ampere landing in every other major US cloud provider, as well as providers around the globe. And it’s important to understand that while Graviton may have started the momentum, Ampere would is successful because its value proposition of performance, power, and price has been validated by the type of consumer that understands the actual value of CPUs better than any other customer – perhaps even the CPU designers, themselves.

In addition to winning in the major CSPs, Ampere also boasts design wins with HPE’s ProLiant RL300 (read my coverage here), Lenovo (HR330A, HR350A), Supermicro and other server vendors.

On its end, Ampere has done an excellent job of delivering on the promise of Arm to both the hyperscalers and the enterprise. The company’s latest CPU – AmpereOne, is a beast of a CPU with up to 192 cores and performance numbers that put it in direct competition with its x86 competitors. Further, the delivery of AmpereOne demonstrates to enterprise IT that the company is executing against its roadmap. This demonstration of stability is huge in gaining the confidence of this conservative audience.

All the parts of the success equation are there for Ampere to expand from the cloud and down into the enterprise. While Oracle may have played a significant role in opening the door, Ampere’s (and the larger Arm community) will succeed in performance and value.

This announcement also benefits Oracle. I mentioned the financial aspect of it earlier, but there’s also competitive pressure. The new generation of databases (e.g., MongoDB) runs on Arm. And the open-source community has fully embraced the Arm architecture. This announcement positions Oracle more solidly for the new IT professional and cloud developer without a lot of legacies to consider (or care about). We have seen the company embrace the NoSQL community with previous announcements, furthering the company’s positioning with this market segment.

My take

Oracle’s announcement is significant. Maybe even huge. While I don’t expect enterprise IT to run out and trade in its x86 platforms for the HPE ProLiant RL300 or Lenovo servers, I expect to see deeper analysis around performance and pricing, followed by some piloting in OCI. And if the numbers prove out (which I believe they will), I expect we’ll start to see some deployments.

Are you skeptical? In the 90s, when we were deploying everything on UNIX, this “small CPU” started grabbing lightweight workloads in the server room. And one day, the IT world woke up and found itself deploying x86 everywhere and for the most demanding workloads.

As usual, check back over the next few quarters to see how Oracle Database 19c on Ampere is landing – in the cloud and the enterprise datacenter.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.

Matthew Kimball

Matt Kimball is a Moor Insights & Strategy senior datacenter analyst covering servers and storage. Matt’s 25 plus years of real-world experience in high tech spans from hardware to software as a product manager, product marketer, engineer and enterprise IT practitioner.  This experience has led to a firm conviction that the success of an offering lies, of course, in a profitable, unique and targeted offering, but most importantly in the ability to position and communicate it effectively to the target audience.