Storage Stands Tall

Oracle engineered storage systems deliver tiered storage optimized for your I/O.

By David Baum

May/June 2012

Oracle’s enterprise storage solutions combine the best hardware with software designed to take advantage of that hardware to meet the requirements of various types of I/O processing: database, network-attached storage (NAS), and storage-area network (SAN).

According to Benjamin S. Woo, program vice president for Worldwide Storage Systems at International Data Corporation (IDC), these “purpose-built” storage platforms provide a great deal of control over how I/O can be distributed. With Oracle Exadata storage, for example, “Oracle has advanced database processing several steps further than other vendors,” says Woo. “Rather than just offering an integrated hardware platform, [Oracle] includes technology that optimizes the movement of data to and from the physical media.”

Oracle Exadata is just one of the platforms in Oracle’s rapidly evolving storage product line. Oracle has realized similar feats of engineering with its Sun ZFS Storage Appliance, which is optimized for NAS storage (see the “Maximizing Options with ZFS” sidebar), as well as with its Pillar Axiom product line, designed primarily for SAN environments. And when it comes to backup, disaster recovery, archiving, and long-term preservation, Oracle continues to lead the industry with modular library systems such as the StorageTek SL8500 and tape drives such as the StorageTek T10000C.

“Storage systems must respond to a variety of workload demands and operational exceptions while always ensuring data availability and integrity,” explains Phil Bullinger, senior vice president of storage at Oracle. “The performance requirements of application workloads, the structure of the data traffic they generate, the architecture of the data center, and the retention lifecycle of the data all influence the optimal implementation of storage solutions for various environments. NAS solutions store data under a file system and service heterogeneous client systems, while SAN solutions function as block storage devices for multiple servers. Tape complements disk storage by providing an order-of-magnitude better capacity economics for large data stores, robust data protection for disaster recovery, and unmatched data retention for long-term archival.”


Headquarters: Oakland, California
Industry: Transportation
Employees: 300
Oracle products and services: Pillar Axiom 600 systems, StorageTek SL3000 modular library systems, Oracle Database, Oracle Consulting

Headquarters: Salt Lake City, Utah
Industry: Research
Oracle products: StorageTek SL8500 modular library systems, StorageTek T10000C tape drives, Sun Storage Archive Manager, StorageTek SL500 modular library systems, SPARC Enterprise M9000 servers, Oracle Database

SAN Selected

A subsidiary of Cargotec Corporation, Navis provides a software platform that is used at shipping terminals around the world. Its software automates essential functions such as tracking containerized cargo through a port, automating equipment operations, and coordinating cargo among multiple locations. Marine terminals, rail yards, and distribution centers in more than 50 countries rely on Navis’ software to automate and optimize many facets of their operations.

Navis storage engineers selected a SAN environment to meet the escalating demands of a global software development team, purchasing two Pillar Axiom 600 storage systems and two StorageTek SL3000 modular library systems. Navis is now creating a virtual IT infrastructure to improve the flexibility of its software-development activities.

“We have a very fluid and dynamic environment, with a lot of buildup and teardown in the engineering process,” says Stephen Schleiger, manager of systems engineering at Navis. “Being able to logically partition the storage environment to support virtual instances is the secret sauce of the Pillar Axiom storage system. It has all of the components we need to maintain exceptional performance and reliability. It is a solid platform that we can tailor to our individual requirements. With 25 percent of the world’s container moves handled using our software, having a stable data management environment is essential to our customers.”

In addition to providing components that can be custom tailored to fit an organization, the Pillar Axiom storage system responds to the changing needs of applications.

“The Pillar Axiom storage system has patented technology that adapts and prioritizes all the physical resources of the system to the relative business priorities of the various application workloads it’s supporting,” explains Oracle’s Bullinger. “By dynamically controlling the priority of data in cache, the execution order of I/O activity, and the tiered placement of data on rotating and solid-state disk drives, the Pillar Axiom system can consolidate multiple applications and deliver deterministic levels of performance and priority for each one while linearly scaling to meet growing capacity and performance requirements.”

Maximizing Options with ZFS


Oracle’s Sun ZFS Storage Appliance delivers impressive performance for network-attached storage (NAS)–oriented workloads by combining state-of-the-art hardware and software.

“Hardware provides the capability for speed, but it takes innovative and efficient software to actually deliver the complete potential of the hardware components in application performance,” says Phil Bullinger, senior vice president of storage at Oracle. “Sun ZFS Storage Appliance combines the highly scalable Oracle Solaris 11 OS, the ZFS file system, and a rich suite of data management features with a massively provisioned Sun server platform that includes multisocket CPUs with multiple cores and large amounts of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and Flash Cache.”

Another unique aspect of the ZFS architecture is Oracle’s Hybrid Storage Pool technology, which allows customers to create virtual pools of storage that include a combination of traditional spinning disks and solid-state flash, along with significant amounts of DRAM. The storage appliance automatically matches the correct components to designated workloads to maximize performance.

“Our caching algorithms dynamically place frequently and recently used data into the fastest possible storage tier—first DRAM, and then flash, and then onto fast-spinning disks,” Bullinger explains. “As data patterns and application workloads change, this system dynamically adjusts to always optimize application performance.”

Sizing Up the Options

Schleiger first encountered the Pillar Axiom product line when Navis decided to either upgrade or replace an existing storage solution. “We looked at different vendors, but Pillar [Axiom] systems particularly intrigued us,” he recalls. “In order to keep up with the demands of our team, we knew we had to virtualize. We saw the Pillar Axiom 600 as the best solution for our software engineering operations.”

Navis determined that it would get more for its money with Pillar Axiom, compared to competing products. “From a management standpoint, the Pillar Axiom line is very easy to use,” Schleiger notes. “The interface is intuitive. We realized we could come up to speed on the Pillar Axiom faster than we could with any other storage platform.”

Working with Oracle Consulting, Navis is implementing the Pillar Axiom 600 systems in its U.S. and India data centers as part of a disaster recovery architecture that uses the Pillar Axiom MaxRep Replication utility to bidirectionally replicate data between these two locations. Net changes to specified volumes are automatically captured via snapshots every 15 minutes and then replicated to the Pillar Axiom 600 volumes in the alternate data center. Navis plans to use Oracle’s storage archive management file system (SAM-FS) to create a tiered storage environment.

“Using SAM-FS in conjunction with MaxRep will ensure that the development team always has the right content in the right place at the right time,” explains Schleiger. “SAM-FS provides a great way for us to develop a complete, policy-based storage solution that covers everything from archival storage to the critical data that we’re looking at every day.”

By offloading some storage functions to tape technology, the tiered storage solution is expected to reduce Navis’ costs by more than half. “As we examined the StorageTek SL3000 modular library systems, we realized that tape provides a much more robust and cost-effective disaster recovery solution than we currently have in place,” Schleiger adds. “When you look at the price and the benefits, the Oracle tape drives and libraries are an excellent solution.”

Newly Awarded

Oracle’s Sun ZFS Storage Appliance has earned the highest overall scores in the six-year history of Storage Magazine’s Quality Awards for NAS, for both enterprise and midrange NAS. The Quality Awards identify and recognize products that have proven their quality and reliability in actual use. The results are based on a survey that assesses products in initial product quality, features, reliability, technical support, and sales force competence. Learn more at

A Cost-Effective Alternative

FamilySearch came to the same conclusion when it sought a digital preservation and archiving system for its massive genealogical service. For more than 100 years, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records with people all over the world—initially through thousands of family history centers in 70 countries, and later through a public Website where any Web visitor can tap into a database that contains billions of genealogical records. Millions of people use this online service each year to piece together their family trees and learn more about their ancestors.

The online service provides access to an Oracle database that contains linking information gathered from individuals building their family trees. Currently 20 terabytes (TB), it’s a small amount of data when compared to the FamilySearch preservation sites, where the organization maintains digital images of historic documents. Digital camera crews throughout the world are constantly gathering new data as they photograph vital records from historical archives, churches, hospitals, and government bureaus. At one archival site, FamilySearch has been storing images of historic documents on microfilm since the 1930s and has amassed 3.5 million rolls of film containing 4 billion records.

“Microfilm is a very stable medium, but it is not very accessible,” says Randy Stokes, group architect for engineering services, storage infrastructure, at FamilySearch. “We knew that if we wanted to make it easier for people to do research and find their ancestors, we would have to put this information into digital form.”

It’s a huge job. Approximately 25 automated scanners are used to scan the microfilm to digital images. Additionally, new photographic images are continually coming in from 185 digital cameras in the field. These operations yield terabytes of new image data each day. The original lossless images are saved as JPEG 2000 images for long-term storage on LTO-4 tapes in three StorageTek SL8500 modular library systems. One copy is written to an in-house preservation system and another to an offsite archival location.

“We decided to use tape libraries mainly because of the cost and long-term stability of this medium,” Stokes says. “Between the scanners and the cameras, we amass 10 to 12 terabytes of new image data each day. Our primary challenge has been to figure out how to effectively manage this massive influx of information. It is difficult to find a system that can deal with this much data around the clock with no downtime.”

Talking Tape

Jim Cates, vice president of storage technology at Oracle, talked with Oracle Magazine about the past, present, and future of enterprise tape technology. Listen to the podcast at

Before purchasing the StorageTek SL8500 systems, Stokes and his team spent six months evaluating tape storage vendors, all the way down to the chemical makeup of the various types of tape. After an intense investigation, they decided to go with the StorageTek SL8500 and LTO tapes because they liked the standard format. FamilySearch currently has more than 8,000 LTO tapes preserving more than 6 petabytes (PB) of data. The organization expects to have more than 10 PB of preservation data in storage by the end of 2012.

Upgrading the Infrastructure

FamilySearch also appreciates the tremendous raw capacity available in the new StorageTek T10000C tape drives—up to 5 TB per tape—as well as being able to write cyclic redundancy check (CRC) checksums on the tapes. “This will save us a lot of money and effort, because it allows us to validate the integrity of the data without having to pull the data off of the tape and onto a server,” Stokes explains. “We simply mount a drive and issue a ‘validate’ command to ensure that all the checksums match the actual data.

Going forward, preservation data will be written to these new StorageTek T10000C tape drives. “Our intent is to preserve the data for at least 1,000 years,” Stokes says. “After comparing the T10000C against competitive products, we decided to continue with the StorageTek technology.”

In addition to using the StorageTek SL8500 library and StorageTek T10000C tape drive storage technology for archiving, FamilySearch runs its Website on Oracle’s SPARC Enterprise M9000 servers with a 20 TB Oracle database. FamilySearch also uses four StorageTek SL500 modular library systems with LTO-4 tape drives for system development and testing as well as tape migration. FamilySearch uses another StorageTek SL8500 as part of its disaster recovery scheme.

“All of the Oracle storage devices work well together and have been very reliable,” Stokes concludes. That’s just the kind of engineered success that sets Oracle apart as a storage vendor. “Unlike most storage vendors, Oracle has an end-to-end solution—from the applications to the middleware to the database platform to the operating systems to the hypervisor through to the service port and the network—that is unique in the market today,” says IDC’s Woo. “Other vendors integrate various parts of this stack, but Oracle is in the unique position of providing end-to-end, optimized, engineered systems.”

Next Steps

LEARN more about
 Oracle storage solutions
 Pillar Axiom storage systems
 StorageTek products
 Sun ZFS Storage Appliance


Photography by Hao Wang,Unsplash