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Amazon, Avere and Oracle Offer Up the Most Transformational Technologies at VMworld 2013

On my flight home last night from San Francisco to Omaha I had the opportunity to reflect a bit on what I learned and saw at VMworld 2013 this past week. In particular, I spent a fair amount of time thinking back as to what were the most transformational technologies I saw while at VMworld. Having now thought about it, I have to classify those offered by Amazon, Avere and Oracle as having the most promise to transform how the data center is delivered and designed sooner rather than later.

VMworld
has become almost a must attend event for any individual involved with enterprise data protection and data storage at any level within the data center. Even vendors who VMware explicitly blocks from exhibiting at VMworld such as Scale Computing (it directly competes against VMware vSphere with its own hypervisor) still feel obligated to show up and have a presence in some way (usually doing briefings in suites at nearby hotels.)  

However whether I was meeting with these “banned” providers offsite or the “approved” ones on the VMworld show floor, they all offer some new perspectives on either where virtualization and/or the cloud are now as well as provide insight on where these technologies may be going next. These conversations and briefings contributed to me classifying the following as the most transformational technologies coming out of VMworld this year as they are poised to transform the data center in ways that few if any other vendors are in a near-term position to replicate.

Watch Out World – Here Comes Amazon with an Avere Front End!

On my flight home when I had to have my electronics turned off, I was reading an interview in Fast Company magazine that it did with Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos. In this particular article Bezos discussed how Amazon continues to make inroads in the retail space by moving more aggressively into grocery and even offers same day delivery service in a few cities across the country.

Individuals who pay an annual $79 fee for an Amazon Prime membership can get goods shipped to their house for no charge in two days or less. The article even raised the interesting possibility that Amazon might buy the US Postal Service (USPS) and its fleet of vehicles so it could compete with FedEx and UPS nationally and not to have to pay them to deliver the products it ships (an idea which Bezos pooh-poohed but did not overtly refute was a possibility.)

However what this article did not examine in any way was the impact that Amazon’s back end data center infrastructure (and more specifically its S3 public cloud storage offering) is having on enterprise data center storage practices. While many organizations already use Amazon S3 in some way to store archival, backup, and maybe even their test and development data, the idea that Amazon could successfully host transactional production data still sounds far-fetched to most.

Well, do not look now but here comes Amazon. In meeting with Avere on Monday afternoon, it described how it was partnering with Amazon to deliver these exact capabilities. This allegiance entails putting the Avere FXT Series Edge filers in front of Amazon’s S3 public cloud storage offering so that companies could get the production performance that Avere has to offer and the nearly limitless (and economical) public cloud storage capacity benefits that Amazon offers.

As if on cue during my briefing with Avere, one of Amazon’s Chief Storage Architects stopped by and interrupted our briefing to say “Hi” to the Avere folks and to see if there was anything further he could be doing to help in continuing to further their blossoming relationship. Read into this interaction what you will but the potential alliance of this emerging star (Avere) and this storage giant (Amazon) who has an expressed desire to break into enterprise storage should put everyone on notice as Amazon now has a viable means to do so.

Further, when one couples the interaction between Avere and Amazon with Bezos’ expressed desire to deliver all services cheaper and faster than anyone else and the fact that Amazon is hosting its second annual AWS re:Invent conference in mid-November 2013 in Las Vegas, you have the makings for a real shake-up in enterprise storage.

Oracle ZFS Storage is a Database Speed Demon

When I decided to meet with Oracle at this year’s VMworld, I have to admit, I had my reservations about doing so. To the best of my recollection, the last time Oracle (which now owns Sun and StorageTek as a result of a series of acquisitions) had done anything innovative in storage was, oh, shortly after Neil Amstrong walked on the moon. So to say my expectations were low going into this meeting would be an understatement.

The good news is that what Oracle had to share with me about its innovations in storage went well beyond anything I could have possibly imagined and it was certainly better than anything I was hearing on the VMworld show floor. In short, what Oracle has done has brought together the best of what ZFS has to offer and tied that together with the best of what of its Oracle databases have to offer to deliver Oracle application performance that far outshines what anyone else can even remotely hope to offer anytime in the near future.

The sizzle in this new storage beauty from Oracle (the Sun ZFS storage appliances) is based on the following innovations. First, Oracle took the ZFS file system and NFS protocols that it got as a result of its Sun acquisition and ramped them up to optimize the placement of data on cache, flash/SSDs and SATA/SAS drives. While I hope to write more about the technical details of this at some later date, in short it takes advantage of the best of what each of these media have to offer while minimizing if not eliminating the downsides of each.

Second, due to Oracle’s insight into the nature of its own database storage traffic and the fact that Oracle database and storage developers are actively talking to one another (like internally people within Oracle are talking to one another in person,) Oracle can now optimize the storage I/O traffic sent between the database and the storage array. This helps to eliminate sending blocks that are too large (packaging 4K blocks in larger blocks) or too small (breaking up large 32K blocks into multiple 4K blocks.) Instead, the Oracle database can put the data into exactly the right size I/O packet, send it to the Oracle ZFS array and the ZFS array will recognize the packet in the format in which the Oracle database sent it.

However to achieve the full bump in performance, only Oracle storage enables organizations to deploy the Oracle Database Hybrid Columnar Compression (HCC) technology. HCC compresses data in both rows and columns and provides capacity savings on average of 12x and as high as 50x and speeds up database queries by 7x or more. This technology is currently unobtainable on any other storage system.

Again, because of the advanced integration between Oracle databases and Oracle’s Sun ZFS storage appliances, it can inflate and compress data and insert the data into the
database automatically. Having a storage system that does not have access to HCC is like buying a sports car but not having access to the turbocharger–you paid for the whole car but you can only use parts of it. ZFS storage truly enables a company to use the Oracle Database to its fullest extent. Without HCC, running Oracle database is like operating a car in degraded mode.

Here’s the scary part. This is probably the best technology that no one knows about as the original version was actually released a couple of years ago. Yet because of my own bias against Sun storage as a result of its lack of innovation for many years, I (like apparently many others) have failed to identify and properly recognize this revolutionary change in how storage systems can support and accelerate database performance.

Oracle reports that it has seen some customer databases achieve up to 75X increases in performance. Not 7.5X or .75X or even 7.5% increases in performance but as much as 75X. Further, it claims these increases in performance are when compared to existing high performance storage arrays (think NetApp and EMC as opposed to DAS.) Assuming all of this is true (and based upon the architecture as Oracle laid it out to me I have every reason to believe that it is,) ZFS could radically change the dynamics in enterprise data centers as whose back end storage they use to host Oracle databases.

Making this technology so transformational is NOT the 75X bump in performance. Certainly that will change the dynamics of how organizations buy storage and who they buy it from to host their Oracle databases. But as word of these performance benefits that come from having applications and storage intelligently talk to one another via APIs leaks out, how long do you really think it will be before VMware, Microsoft, Citrix and other OS providers start partnering with other storage providers to offer the same feature functionality and high levels of performance? My opinion is that delivering this integration between application and storage will quickly become a top priority at many storage providers.

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Jerome M. Wendt

About Jerome M. Wendt

President & Lead Analyst of DCIG, Inc. Jerome Wendt is the President and Lead Analyst of DCIG Inc., an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Wendt founded the company in September 2006.

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