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Oracle FS1 Throws the Gauntlet Down Against EMC

Oracle announced Oracle FS1, its first all-flash storage offering on September 29th at Oracle World. While there is much to study under the covers (which we will do in the next few weeks) it is clear that Oracle has thrown the gauntlet down against all-flash-array vendors, especially EMC and its XtremIO offering. There are essentially five things of importance with FS1. One, while it can be deployed as a true all-flash array, it is really designed as a hybrid, albeit with a flash-first engineering philosophy. Two, it is designed with four tiers, namely Performance SSD, Capacity SSD, Performance HDD and Capacity HDD. These four tiers are mapped to five QoS layers that are associated with application priority. This management framework is called QoS Plus. Three, the granularity of data movement between tiers is 640KB, compared to 1GB for EMC VNX1, 256MB for EMC VNX2 and HP 3PAR. Oracle claims for database workloads granularity matters and 640KB is much closer to ideal compared to larger chunks. Four, provisioning storage for Oracle and non-Oracle applications can be done with one click with FS1 Application Profiles that provide pre-defined and pre-tuned best practices storage profiles. Five, other Oracle differentiators, such as Hybrid Columnar Compression (HCC) and other data services available on existing Oracle systems are all available on FS1 and they are almost all free. According to Oracle, a single rack of FS1 compared to a 2-node version of EMC XtremIO configuration yields advantages in favor of FS1 of between 1.2X to 9.7X, along the dimensions of max capacity, read IOPS, write IOPS, 50/50 R/W IOPS, read GB/s and write GB/s, with the differences being huge in the sequential throughput dimension. Let’s look at these five elements in a little more detail below.

1. All-Flash vs. Hybrid: Most all-flash-arrays in the market today were done from scratch because that was the only way to get maximum performance out of the flash technology. Modifying existing arrays that were originally designed for HDDs typically yielded sub-par results, in spite of improvements made to controllers, caching and such. Flash technology is just so much faster than HDDs, especially in latency reduction that current array technology simply couldn’t be modified easily to accommodate flash. Exceptions to this rule have been few and far between, HP 3PAR being the prime (and perhaps the only) example where an all-flash-array developed from existing architecture yielded excellent results. Oracle FS1 is rather unique in this group as it was developed to support flash media from the onset, with support for HDDs being a secondary priority—so while some may refer to it as a hybrid array, it’s chronology of architectural design focus is the direct inverse of many hybrids on the market. If one were to take the performance numbers presented by Oracle at their face value, FS1 blows EMC XtremIO out of the water in almost all relevant dimensions. And yet it also accommodates HDDs and creates tiers (remember tiers are only necessary when you have technologies that vary dramatically in cost and performance). All else being equal, a customer would rather have fewer storage boxes to manage and run multiple workloads on them. But this assumes that tiering is efficient and some form of QoS is available so that right resources are applied to each application. Oracle seems to have paid attention to all these dimensions as we explain below.

2. QoS Plus: Oracle FS1 is designed with four tiers, namely performance SSD, capacity SSD, performance HDD and capacity HDD. Frankly, given the state of the art this part is commonplace. The part where Oracle seems to have developed real IP is in the way it has mapped these to five layers of business (read application) priority, namely Premium, High, Medium, Low and Archive. Applications are assigned one of these priorities and all the right resources are allocated automatically. These include QoS level, type of storage, raid levels, read/write caching, IO bias and others. The idea is to place the application in the right priority level and all else happens behind the scene. We have been proponents of this methodology for years. It has simply been very difficult to implement and many vendors have come close. Oracle seems to understand the true meaning of the word QoS with its ability to place priorities on every IO, moving beyond the first-in-first-out queuing process that dates back several decades. QoS Plus reorders IOs based on business priorities, thereby moving business critical application requests to the forefront and less critical requests to the back of the IO queue. QoS Plus combines data usage with business priorities to determine data placement across four tiers of storage media, optimizing performance at the lowest cost. The industry is rife with the use of the QoS term but its usage is typically tied to whatever the vendor’s products happen to do. We will dig deeper into the makeup of Oracle QoS Plus in the near future but the first level of analysis shows very positive and complete implementation.

3. Granularity of chunks: Oracle claims that 640KB is the right chunk size to move around in a database environment. Moving bigger or smaller chunks than ideal would be wasteful and impact the amount of flash you need in the system and the performance you would get (remember moving chunks in and out of tiers is expensive compute and IO-wise). Additionally, moving data in and out of flash increases write amplification and reduces wear life. We have reason to believe that Oracle would know the ideal chunk size for database workloads, given their history. However, what the 640KB chunk size does to non-database workloads is unclear. Given Oracle’s strategy to develop the best storage for Oracle applications, first and foremost, this strategy makes sense. The terminology Oracle uses for this is “Oracle on Oracle.”

4. One-Click Provisioning: As mentioned in 1 above, the IT administrator, in consultation with the business unit would determine how important the application is and assign one of five priorities to it. Then with one click the right type and size of storage, cache, thin provisioning, data protection, IOPS and throughput would be automatically assigned and kept within bounds, as multiple applications vie for resources. Given that this is a hybrid system this capability is essential, even though we believe that even in an all-flash array QoS has a play, especially when two different tier of flash are involved, as is the case with FS1, and when multi-tenancy is involved, which Oracle has in the FS1. From what we have seen so far, it certainly has the ability to move chunks in and out of the four storage domains to maximize performance and resource usage. Oracle highlights that its ability to provide secure data isolation with its Storage Domains feature, combined with its extremes of resource management granularity, makes the FS1 well suited for service providers and enterprises looking to deploy IT-as-a-service. The FS1’s Storage Domains essentially operate as smaller virtual FS1s within a larger physical FS1, providing dedicated system resources by customer and application.

5. Software Comes for Free: Nearly all Oracle software, including Oracle’s ace differentiator for databases, HCC, is included without an extra charge. The only chargeable software option is its replication suite. Thin provisioning, cloning, tiering Storage Domains, remote management tools and other data services are all included for free. This instantly gives Oracle FS1 a huge price advantage over just about all all-flash array vendors, especially XtremIO.

We are impressed with what Oracle has done with FS1. But more importantly, we are seeing storage offerings come from Oracle for the first time that are world-class and compete head on with the likes of EMC, IBM, HP and NetApp (and the new all-flash-array vendors), without asterisks and caveats. If it wasn’t clear before it should be now: Oracle wants its own applications running on Oracle storage and is microscopically focused on that strategy. It knows that its presence is huge in the realm of applications but small—and growing--in the realm of storage. Oracle points out that in the NAS market, it is currently ranked ahead of IBM, Dell and Hitachi in terms of market share. If it can get even 15% of the SAN storage market it would be ranked amongst the top storage vendors. Given its application base and what we see it is doing now in storage it would be silly to ignore them. FS1 just shows one more of Oracle’s cards and, based on the information available thus far, the card is an ace.

  • Premiered: 10/03/14
  • Author: Arun Taneja
Topic(s): Storage Virtualization Oracle EMC SSD Arun Taneja Flash HP IBM NetApp Dell Oracle FS1 QoS


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