One of the great things about the Cloud is the ability to stimulate new/different ways of thinking about your datacenter and IT operations in general. This is particularly valid in the areas of service delivery and quality management for an ever more demanding consumer population!
This is what I call Cloud Transformatics - the vectors and drivers of Cloud induced change in traditional IT operations and service delivery. I will be writing a mini-series of blogs on this theme, starting with SAN storage.
One of the tenants that the Cloud has really hit on the head, is the notion of massive old-fashioned monolithic arrays. The simple idea that using smaller lower-cost building blocks can actually reduce overall cost while giving more reliability, performance and ultimately service quality swept through the storage industry through the last decade.
Most storage manufacturers moved to disguising their systems as modular and scalable storage systems and only under innovation pressure from competitors started putting in features that cut margins and overall sales volume - think deduplication, virtual LUNs, compression, unified storage, storage tiering, thin storage etc.
Indeed even the very storage protocols became a religious debate. SAN FC vs iSCSI, SAN vs NAS, CIFS vs NFS, converged cabling etc. Many examples of this spring to mind, the NetApps and 3PARs of this world. Many of these were simply acquired by those companies that were their competitors. 3PAR went to HP, Equallogic to Dell, Isilon/Data Domain to EMC and Pillar Axiom to Oracle.
Curiously, in the IT market, good-innovative products don't always survive. Isilon was struggling in the market against massive competition - and was acquired and survived and thrived. That is great news - without the acquisition the industry may have lost the important innovations they bring to market. The same goes for 3PAR and Data Domain.
I have been watching Pillar Axiom for some time. It struck me when verifying its architecture, market penetration, sentiment analysis and "cool" factor that this was a very promising technical architecture directly tackling issues typical in customer datacenters and storage services delivery in particular!
Firstly, there is the idea of SLAMMERS - the protocol and CPU heart of the Axiom Storage system. These are modular, built on standard industry CPUs (AMD) and are easily ramped up for roaring performance. A simple CPU upgrade from dual to quad core delivered vastly more vroom and correspondingly better service management. Imagine what an AMD Bulldozer (16 cores) or a corresponding Intel chip would deliver!
Secondly, there is the idea of BRICKS - which are dual RAID controller disk enclosures providing up to 24TB of raw storage using 12 disks, with a separate hot spare - all in a 2U package. This is what I call modular. These enclosures have their own cache and offload disk controller operations away from the slammers. Local hot spares all ensure rapid rebuild operations localised in the brick. Oracle claim 128 RAID controllers operating in parallel in 64 separate bricks per axiom storage system.
This is a great level of parallelism and modularity. Again, industry standard components are used, and scalability through component upgrades (CPU, RAM, backplane, interconnects, disks) can yield surprisingly large gains in performance and capacity!
Last, but not least, there is the PILOT - the hardware appliance providing out-of-band management features. This provides in a simple intuitive interface the management cockpit of the axiom storage system. It has features you would expect such as managing disk resources and pools. It also provides features that are definitely in the enterprise class league:
- Application aware storage profiles
- Policy based resource control
- Spindle striping levels
- IO Priority Queues
- Disk stroking (using inner or outer spindles for performance)
- Network bandwidth control
- Multi-tenancy with Quality of Service profiles
- Thin storage, storage tiering, distributed RAID for linear scaling
Pillar was typically put in the mid-range league, probably due to not supporting mainframes. However, the feature set is clearly enterprise worthy. Recently Oracle has started to add support for Hybrid Columnar Compression which further adds value to this device to provide SAN enabled storage support for Oracle 11g environments over and above what is available in any other high-end storage array currently.
Looking under the covers, and extrapolating somewhat, we have a SAN storage array with enterprise features. It has a modular slammer structure that corresponds to the EMC VMAX with its engines model. The Axiom also offers 8 engines, but provides, through its bricks, a linear scalability. If Oracle inserts Infiniband interconnects (40Gbps links) inside the axiom, then this will be a screamer of a system!
I have often seen clients who exhaust the high-end arrays in I/O well before the claimed 2000+ disks are reached. So top end capacity is nice on paper, but in reality it is rarely reached in intense environments.
The Axiom with its odd brick and slammer architecture addresses one critical concern that I have noticed with the traditional gamut of high-end arrays - namely the posturing that this is the last word in storage and why one would possibly need anything else! Well, Cloud Transformatics clearly shows that true modular systems are winning out in the real world and provide dramatically better performance and value.
If one needs more performance than available in a single Axiom system, then put a second Axiom system in place! That is how Cloud storage works - ramp up IO and Capacity through adding another module. That we can do this in a SAN is definitely worth taking a look at!
The Race to Business Value
The Axiom already had many of the features associated with high-end SAN storage, but available in a pay-as-you grow model through adding additional modular slammers and bricks! This is remarkable value! Further, the Axiom also provides, through its architecture, NAS services.
With the current shortfall of global disk production due to the tragic flooding in Thailand, every storage manufacturer is projecting steep price increases or delayed delivery. This is the perfect time to re-evaluate the SAN storage strategy. Oracle is providing substantial intellectual property integration into the platform to further deliver real Cloud derived value (CVD).
This platform in its architecture shares similarities with scale-out NAS systems such as Isilon, providing infrastructure for big data. It does not take a big leap in imagination to see such functionality coming to this important datacenter building block.
Why is this important for the CIO?
CIOs setting their IT agendas in 2012 should take into account that there is a new disruptive player in the datacenter offering storage services. Oracle can not really be disregarded in this respect. Time will tell how clients react to the exciting potential of the Pillar Axiom platform now that it has some enterprise backing through Oracle.
CIOs looking to secure deep cost savings and efficiency should note the potential of this SAN storage platform. Clearly, if there is a use case in their organisations for enterprise software stacks (databases, messaging systems, ERP, CRM etc) then Oracle is a major player. Oracle is already probably used in most enterprise shops, and further deep practical value (not just paper savings) can be accrued from using the Axiom SAN storage platform.