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Oracle FS1 flash system challenges SANs for DB storage

Oracle FS1 Series Flash Storage System could threaten major SAN vendors and solid-state startups that target Oracle DB, application environments.

When Oracle Corp.'s FS1 Series Flash Storage System hits the market next month, the product could pose a serious threat to major SAN vendors and solid-state-centric startups that target enterprises in Oracle-rich environments.

The Oracle FS1 is designed to accommodate tiers of solid-state drives (SSDs) and hard-disk drives (HDDs). Industry analysts disagree about whether the FS1 will get more use as an all-flash or hybrid array, but agree the sweet spot will lie in data centers with lots of Oracle software.

Oracle claims the FS1 offers better performance and special advantages such as one-click storage provisioning, highly granular quality of service and hybrid columnar compression to users of Oracle's databases and applications such as Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle's PeopleSoft, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and Siebel. The storage software features are based on technology Oracle acquired in 2011 from Pillar Data Systems.

"Oracle's putting the top storage vendors on notice," said Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting in Beaverton, Ore. "They'll be competitive when Oracle software is not in the mix, and they'll have a significant edge when Oracle software is."

Oracle chairman and CTO Larry Ellison took dead aim at EMC's XtremIO all-flash array when he introduced the flash array at Oracle OpenWorld. Oracle claimed its own testing showed a dual-controller FS1 could deliver higher performance at lower cost than XtremIO's X-Bricks.

Wikibon: Take FS1 performance claims with "a pinch of salt"

David Floyer, chief technology officer and co-founder at Wikibon, cautioned that the vendor's performance claims need to be taken with "a large pinch of salt," and customers should not expect to see 10 times the performance at 1/10 the price of other products.

"That's just normal marketing one-upmanship," said Floyer. "There's no such thing as a free lunch. But, is it a good product? Is it low-cost? Absolutely. It will fend extremely well in that space, and it'll be very competitive."

Floyer foresees Oracle's FS1 taking on storage products that handle online transaction processing, such as EMC's VMAX or IBM's DS8000, more so than the new wave of all-flash arrays such as EMC's XtremIO and Pure Storage's FlashArray.

"They're going after the Tier 1, high-performance, high-availability marketplace," Floyer said. "At the moment, EMC walks away with the lion's share, and EMC is not going to fold and go away. But, Oracle will do well also. There's room for them both in that market space."

Taneja: FS1 could hurt EMC most

Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at Taneja Group in Hopkinton, Mass., said EMC's presence has been dominant in Oracle accounts, and he thinks the FS1 system could hurt EMC the most.

"Remember, in the past, these customers in general had no option but to buy storage from EMC, IBM, Dell, HP or HDS because storage from Sun [which Oracle acquired in 2010] was practically useless. Now they can buy well performing storage from Oracle that is designed for Oracle apps," Taneja said via email. "Even a small percentage of their customers buying from Oracle will be a big boost for Oracle."

Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, based in Milford, Mass., noted that Oracle has grown its market share in file storage with its ZFS-based storage appliance, and he expects to see the same in the SAN market with FS1.

"Clearly, the incumbent players there are very strong, so I'm not suggesting it's going to be a walk in the park," Peters said. "But, the fact that the market is interested in converged systems gives them a leg up."

Tim Stammers, a senior analyst at New York-based 451 Research LLC, predicted that the "huge majority" of FS systems will sell as disk-only arrays or hybrid arrays with disk and flash drives. He said, although demand for all-flash arrays is growing, it is still small in comparison to disk-only and hybrid arrays largely to the higher cost of the flash media.

No dedupe, but is it needed for database storage systems?

Customers can deploy FS1 with four storage tiers that can consist of high-performance single-level cell SSDs, capacity-oriented enterprise multilevel cell flash drives, performance-focused disk drives and/or high-capacity HDDs. FS1 can handle up to the 7 PB of flash in full scale-out mode, according to Bob Maness, vice president of product management for Oracle flash storage systems.

Maness said Oracle significantly enhanced several features from Pillar Axiom in remapping the code to the new FS1 system. He said the company added automatic tiering at a highly granular level in Quality of Service (QoS) Plus, improved the level of isolation with Storage Domain data containers to enable multiple virtual storage arrays to operate within a single FS1 system, and expanded the number of application profiles for Oracle and non-Oracle software from about 40 to 70 to facilitate pre-tuned storage provisioning.

Industry analysts spotlighted Oracle's sophisticated quality of service (QoS) Plus as one of the product's main differentiators while pointing to lack of inline deduplication and general-purpose in-line compression as the main deficiency.

FS1 offers only hybrid columnar compression (HCC) through Oracle databases. Maness said HCC can compress data by up to 50 times and speed queries.

"The part of the overall system that does the best job of compressing in a database environment is the database itself," Maness said. "We are supported by our database team with hybrid columnar compression, and that's exclusive to Oracle storage and Oracle databases."

Is this Pillar 2?

Maness dismissed any notion that FS1 is simply an old Pillar Axiom disk array with flash forced into the storage pool. He said the company shifted the RAID controller function from the drive enclosures into the controller nodes, switched from Fibre Channel loop back-end interconnects to a new communications system using PCIe cards and a SAS back end, swapped out Pillar Axiom's QNX operating system for 64-bit Oracle Linux, and moved to multicore processors.

"The entire back end and hardware base and operating system of the product was redesigned and re-plumbed to enable us to relieve some of the bottlenecks that are part of HDDs so we could exploit flash," said Maness.

Oracle did, however, bring Axiom's features such as snapshots, clones and thin provisioning to the flash system. Maness said Oracle carried forward 4.3 million lines of code from Pillar and added about 700,000 additional lines of code.

Next Steps

Axiom disk arrays add Pillar solid-state disks

Pillar unveils faster Axiom disk array

Dig Deeper on SSD array implementations

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