Strategic Storage

Oracle storage solutions deliver optimized performance for all types of I/O.

By Tom Haunert

November/December 2011

Tom Haunert, Oracle Magazine editor in chief, recently sat down with Michael Brown, director of storage product marketing at Oracle, to talk about Oracle’s storage strategy and strategic storage solutions. The following is an excerpt from that interview. Download the full podcast at

Oracle Magazine: The type of I/O is a key differentiator in storage solutions. What are the main I/O choices available in storage solutions today?

Brown: Every vendor has its own variation on the theme, but there are basically four types of storage in today’s datacenter. There’s traditional block I/O, which can be either connected to the system or through a storage-area network [SAN]. Block I/O can have very low latency, but it entails higher overhead on the server to run the file system.

Next, there is network-attached storage [NAS], or file I/O, which offloads the lower levels of the I/O stack to separate NAS controllers. NAS or file I/O can reduce the amount of work on your application or database server, but can increase latencies because there’s an extra network and controller for data to pass through.

Third, there’s database I/O, where database servers offload lower-level queries, compression, security, and other features to the storage servers. This takes the offloading concept found in NAS environments several steps further, and both increases database query parallelism and reduces the amount of data that is actually sent back to the database server by more than 90 percent.

And finally, there’s tape storage, which is used for long-term data protection, as well as governance, regulation, and compliance. And tape can also be used as a high-capacity, cost-effective, and energy-efficient tier in online storage environments, where it can use more than 230 times less energy than disks.

Oracle Magazine: How does Oracle address these different I/O types?

Brown: Different applications and databases have different requirements to access data, so a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. Oracle has a complete product line where products are optimized for the different database, NAS, SAN, and tape storage requirements of a modern datacenter. The individual Oracle products are often the most powerful in their class and incorporate key intelligent storage features that allow them to integrate with Oracle’s complete solution stack.

Oracle Magazine: How does Oracle optimize database I/O?

Brown: Our database storage offering is the Oracle Exadata Storage Server, which is part of the Oracle Exadata Database Machine. Of course, Oracle Exadata offers much more than just storage, but a lot of its breakthrough capabilities come from how storage is optimized within the system.

At the architectural level, Oracle Exadata uses parallel database servers and an even larger number of parallel storage servers, and connects them together using a switched 40 Gb/sec InfiniBand fabric. This allows queries to progress in parallel on multiple storage servers and reduces data access latencies.

At the software level, Oracle Exadata Storage Servers offload processing from the database servers using the Exadata Smart Scan, Exadata Smart Flash Cache, and Exadata Hybrid Columnar Compression features in Oracle Exadata to accelerate performance and increase efficiencies by 10 times or greater.

In addition, Oracle Exadata Storage Server offers an I/O Resource Management feature, which ensures that different users and tasks within a database are allocated the correct relative amount of I/O bandwidth. This is a critical factor that helps enable Oracle Exadata to consolidate multiple databases into a private database cloud.

Oracle Magazine: How does Oracle optimize network-attached storage—NAS I/O?

Brown: Oracle’s NAS product offering is the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance, and it’s a real workhorse when it comes to NAS I/O. It combines a high-performance, high-bandwidth design with fast disks and even faster flash-based caches to provide industry-leading performance and price performance.

Modern high-performance and high-bandwidth NAS controller designs, like those in the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance, enable applications to run faster by eliminating bottlenecks and allow system administrators to consolidate storage from multiple applications onto a single server and increase overall storage efficiency.

For example, some NAS products have limited CPU power, memory, and bandwidth. However, a Sun ZFS Storage 7420 appliance from Oracle has up to 64 cores, 1 TB of memory, and enormous memory bandwidth. The Sun ZFS Storage 7420 can use these capabilities to run more queries in parallel, support more data services in real time, and create an easier-to-understand and easier-to-manage storage environment.

Another example is how the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance works with the Oracle Exadata Database Machine for data protection purposes. The Sun ZFS Storage Appliance is the only NAS appliance that can connect to the Oracle Exadata InfiniBand network, and it is highly optimized to work with Oracle Recovery Manager. This combination allows it to run up to three to four times faster than alternative solutions.

Again, our goal is to enable Oracle software to run faster and more efficiently on Oracle storage, and these are a few of the ways that already make that happen. So stay tuned for some really exciting new NAS announcements, which will be coming up shortly.

Oracle Magazine: How does Oracle optimize storage-area network, or block I/O?

Brown: Oracle’s premier offering for the SAN environment is the Pillar Axiom storage system. It’s a next-generation SAN storage platform with a scalable quality-of-service-based architecture with multiple storage tiers that deliver fast, predictable performance for multiple applications sharing a single storage system.

Pillar Axiom is scalable because it can be configured with up to 8 storage controllers and 128 rate controllers. This is in stark contrast to traditional SAN designs, which use two monolithic storage controllers with integrated RAID and which can be costly and lead to unexpected bottlenecks.

Pillar Axiom storage and RAID controllers are separate devices, so you can independently increase the number of storage controllers to increase throughput rates or the number of RAID controllers to increase the amount of solid-state disks, performance-optimized disks, and capacity-optimized disks. This allows you to purchase only what you need, when you need it, and to fully utilize everything you purchase.

Pillar Axiom’s patented quality-of-service capabilities enable applications to deliver fast, dependable performance in consolidated storage environments and in the presence of dynamic workloads. Using quality-of-service functionality, applications can reserve the required compute, cache, storage capacity, and bandwidth throughout the Pillar Axiom SAN storage system, and administrators can define automated management policies that enable multiple applications to coexist without starving each other for resources. We have numbers of customers that run tens to hundreds of applications off a single Pillar Axiom storage system without restricting performance of their business-critical environments.

A new software option in Pillar Axiom storage systems is called Pillar Axiom Storage Domains, which enable physical isolation of specific file systems and data sets within the system while still maintaining quality-of-service capabilities. Pillar Axiom is the only system that enables this physical separation, which is critical when maximum security is required in multitenant cloud computing and storage environments.

Oracle Magazine: In a world where storage is optimized to different types of I/O, how does tape storage fit in the mix?

Brown: Tape is absolutely critical in today’s modern datacenter. It acts as the last line of defense against data corruption and loss. It supports long-term archival needs of governance, regulation, and compliance, and it uses the lowest amount of energy of any storage medium—up to 230 times less than disks.

The use of online storage for backup, recovery, and compliance is fine, but you shouldn’t make it your only solution. If you only use online storage, it’s possible that errors can propagate from one device to its shadow copy. However, this can’t happen if you use tape, which is not continuously connected to your system but which can be quickly accessed when needed through an automated tape library.

You may recall earlier this year that a major internet mail provider lost all of its customers’ e-mails during a software upgrade. They were able to restore their customers’ accounts because they had tape backups of all of them.

On the compliance side, current tape media is designed for more than a 30-year lifetime and is actually replaced, in most datacenters, every 8 to 10 years, which gives it about three times longer lifetime than disk storage. It has a much lower unrecoverable bit error rate than disk, and the option of nonerasable media supports all compliance procedures. And Oracle’s StorageTek tape products and automated tape libraries are absolute leaders in the industry in capacity, density, and throughput.

Oracle Magazine: What do you see in the future of I/O support in storage, and how will it impact enterprise IT?

Brown: I think we’re really just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible for the integration of applications and storage. Because different applications require different capabilities from their storage, we will see much more, if you will, application-aware storage and storage-aware applications. This will apply to both structured and unstructured data and impact performance, capacity, security, and the management of the datacenter.

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