Monday, 26 October 2015 12:29

Oracle has storage from concept to execution

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When Jason Schaffer, Vice President of Storage at Oracle based in Redwood City, California starts speaking about storage you cannot help admire his enthusiasm for what can be a pretty dry subject.

Most of us know Oracle as synonymous with database management. But Oracle is a huge company that does so much and has acquired so many companies that this article focuses on its storage which underpins the cloud, big data, corporate on premise, and everything it does.

Some will remember that its founder Larry Ellison was convinced that computer hardware was the way to the future and acquired Sun Microsystems to further develop Sun’s SPARC, RISC-based computers, computer components, computer software, storage systems, information technology services - and its Java programming language, MySQL, Solaris Unix, and the Network File System (NFS).

Many of Oracle’s storage offerings come from those roots. Jason is a seven-year veteran who came from Sun Microsystem’s acquisition and stayed.

Its storage offers include NAS systems, tape storage, SAN systems, storage software, and storage accessories. It has more than 400,000 customers—including 100 of the Fortune 100—in more than 145 countries. Oracle works in the cloud and in the data centre.

This was my first exposure to Oracle’s storage division so I wanted to know what products it had, what technologies it used, and why it was different from the many storage vendors I had interviewed this year – I hope you find my 101 angle interesting. Who says storage is boring?

Oracle has its own File System and ZFS storage software based on Solaris. It then has all flash storage, NAS (network attached storage), SAN (storage area network), Tape storage (StorageTek), and Sun storage peripherals like PCIe accelerator cards, Solid State Drives (SSD), and networking.

“In the ‘old’ days storage devices had the processing power to perform smart reading and writing from disks. Then more power was needed to do things like encryption, compression so processing power moved to controllers – still hardware based. Now we need and de-duplication and replication so it has move to an application running on Sun and Intel based servers and that gives you better performance and security. The software approach (app) can be more aware of the virtual tier, the web tier, the database tier and more,” he said.

Having an app controlling things allows for analytics. Is your Virtual Machine doing what it should be, what are the conditions of the hard disks, tuning for databases, and more.

The rest of the interview got a bit techy so I will paraphrase to avoid excessive use of ‘he said’ and any misunderstandings.

First, the real time operating file system. It has 1.7M lines of code and has been developed from the start to work with new and older storage media – not just spinning disks, (it uses helium-filled disks for reliability and power load). Flash needs an entirely different file system, as does its hybrid DRAM system. Flash uses small blocks and hard disks store in bits all over it. Oracle owns the file system and code and can respond quickly to change.

Next is its hybrid storage – a mix of up to 3TB of high speed DRAM and virtually unlimited HDD or Flash storage under it. The DRAM acts both as a cache (for frequently used data) as well as allowing data to be served, sorted and prioritised – its 1,000 times faster than trying to do the same reading and writing from HDD. It can get 31 Gb/s for a large block sequential read – faster than SSD. It is Oracles aim to serve at least 90% of data from DRAM. And when the customer is using an Oracle database and hardware it can be even faster because Oracle systems do not need to decompress data first on the fly. Its controllers and apps can get more information from Oracle’s data headers.

I asked about RAID. Customers are moving from RAID 5 (spanning multiple drives with a parity drive to rebuild the data and array should a drive fail) to mirroring or triple mirroring – hard disks are now cheap and this is a lot faster than rebuilding an array.

Virtualisation (VM) has changed storage concepts. This has created a big problem for VM and storage admins.  Efficient storage administration is crucial in the changeable VM environment because it has a direct impact on IT’s ability to meet service level agreements (SLAs). Fast storage is a prerequisite to meeting application service SLAs. Efficient storage makes it possible to support more applications without buckling.  And when problems arise, good storage administration enables faster identification and isolation of issues.

He commented that it made sense to spread data over more, smaller disks but the real cost was the time to deploy and tune storage to suit the use – databases have different needs to archival storage etc. More data administration – as much as 70% - was moving to the data base administrators than traditional system admins. The cost per terabyte is now cheaper than the cost to tune and administer it.

I asked about Cloud – while everyone is talking about it I had seen little evidence of larger companies moving from o premise storage entirely to the cloud. Jason agreed that there had been some experimentation but on premise still satisfied data sovereignty rules and it was much faster to access via the LAN. Oracle does offer cloud solutions using its own hardware and software – it thinks that this is superior to many clouds that are just data repositories.

Oracle sells via a qualified value added resellers who can put a unique solution together for clients. Oracle’s storage sales are growing and it is recruiting in Australia.

The closing message:

Oracle is committed to be number one in storage. Our differentiation has to be the holistic approach – our own software, file system and hardware works seamlessly and flawlessly together.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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