Entries in Oracle (5)


Oracle/Sun F20 Flash Card - How fast is it?

I received several questions about the performance of the Oracle/Sun F20 flash card I used in my previous post about block alignment, so I put together a quick overview of the card's performance capabilities. The following results are from testing the card in a dual socket 2.93Ghz Nehalem (x5570) system running Solaris x64. This is similar to the server platform Oracle uses in the ExaData 2 platform. The F20 card is a SAS controller with 4 x 24GB flash modules attached to it. You can find more info on the flash modules on Adam Leventhal's blog and the official Oracle product page has the F20 details. All of my tests used 100% random 4KB blocks. I focused on random operations, because in most cases it is not cost effective to use SSD for sequential operations. These tests were run with a variety of different thread counts to give an idea of how the card scales with multiple threads. The first test compared the performance of a single 24GB flash module to the performance of all 4 modules.

4KB Random Operations 4KB Random Operations At lower thread counts the 4 module test is roughly 4x the operations per second of the single module test. As the thread count rises, the single module test tops out at 35,411 ops and 4 modules can deliver 97,850 ops, or 2.76x the single module test. It would be great if the card was able to drive the 4 modules at full speed, but 97K+ ops is not too shabby. What is more impressive to me is that those 97K+ ops are delivered at roughly 1ms of latency. The next round of testing included three different workloads. The three phases were 100% read, 80% read, and 100% write and they were run against all 4 flash modules. Again, all tests used 4KB random operations. Here are the operations per second results.


And a throughput version in MB/s for anyone that is interested.


Flash and solid state disk (SSD) technologies are developing at an incredibly fast pace. They are a great answer, but I think we are still figuring out what the question is. At some point down the line, they may replace spinning disk drives, but I do not think that is going to happen in the short term. There are some applications that can leverage this low latency capacity inside the servers today, but this is not the majority of applications.

Where flash and SSD make more sense to me is as a large cache. NetApp and Sun are using flash this way today in their storage array product lines. DRAM is very expensive, but flash can provide a very large and very low latency cache. I expect we will see more vendors adopting this "flash for cache" approach moving forward. The economics just make sense. Disks are too slow and DRAM is too expensive.

It would also be great to see operating systems that were intelligent enough to use technologies like the F20 card and the Fusion IO card as extended filesystem read cache. Solaris can do it for zfs filesystems using the L2ARC. As far as I know, there are no filesystems that have this feature in the other major operating systems. What about using as a client side NFS cache? At one point, Solaris offered CacheFS for NFS caching, but I do not believe it is still being actively developed. While CacheFS had its challenges, I believe the idea was a very good one. It costs a lot more to buy a storage array capable of delivering 97K ops than it does to put more cache into the server.

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Block alignment is critical

Block alignment is an important topic that is often overlooked in storage. I read a blog entry by Robin Harris a couple months back about the importance of block alignment with the new 4KB  drives. I was curious to test the theory on one of the new 4KB drives, but I did not have one on hand. That got me thinking about Solid State Disk (SSD) devices. If filesystem misalignment hurts traditional spinning disk performance, how would it impact SSD performance. In short, it is ugly. Here is a chart showing the difference between aligned and misaligned random read operations to a Sun F20 card. I guess it is officially an Oracle F20 card. Oracle F20 - Aligned vs. Misaligned Oracle F20 - Aligned vs. Misaligned With only a couple threads, the flash module can deliver about 50% more random 4KB read operations. As the thread count increases, the module is able to deliver over 9x the number of operations if properly aligned. It is worth noting that the card is delivering those aligned reads at less that 1ms while the misaligned operations average over 7ms of latency. 9x the operations at 85% less latency makes this an issue worth paying attention to. (My test was done on Solaris and here is an article about how to solve the block alignment issue for Solaris x64 volumes.) I have seen a significant increase in block alignment issues with clients recently. Some arrays and some operating systems make is easier to align filesystems than others, but a new variable has crept in over the last few years. VMware on block devices means that VMFS adds another layer of abstraction to the process. Now it is important to be sure the virtual machine filesystems are aligned in addition to the root operating system/hypervisor filesystem. Server virtualization has been the catalyst for many IT organizations to centralize more of their storage. Unfortunately, centralized storage does not come at the same $/GB as the mirrored drives in the server. It is much more expensive. Block misalignment can make the new storage even more expensive by making it less efficient. If the filesystems are misaligned, then it makes the array cache far less efficient. When that misaligned data is read from or written to disk, the drives are forced to do additional operations that would not be required for an aligned operation. It can quickly turn a fast storage array into a very average system. Most of the storage manufacturers can provide you with a best practices doc to help you avoid these issues. Ask them for a whitepaper about block alignment issues with virtual machines.

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Oracle & Sun - What to do with the hardware business

The questions are going to continue here until Oracle officially owns Sun and perhaps beyond. Will Oracle sell the Sun hardware business? As I have said in the past, I do not think they will. I could certainly be wrong and many industry analysts think I am. Here are a few new data points to think about:

  1. The rumor mill continues to churn and CNNMoney.com is suggesting that HP may want to purchase the Sun hardware business. HP has the cash, but does the investment make sense? Would Oracle sell Solaris as well? HP would be in a tough position if they bought the hardware but Oracle still owned Solaris. Interestingly, in the article, CNNMoney points Mark Hurd at HP out as the unnamed "Party B" in the Sun regulatory filings.
  2. Oracle ran this front page ad in the Wall Street Journal today promoting Oracle DB on Sun SPARC. Is this just Oracle bluffing? Perhaps.
  3. If Oracle wants to be in the appliance space, I believe they need to sell general purpose servers. Without the volume that comes from selling general purpose servers, the cost of the appliance platform goes through the roof. Oracle would also have a difficult time getting specialized hardware without paying a premium for a small production run of servers.
  4. Oracle and Larry Ellison want to own the IT budget. The "save money on hardware and spend it on Oracle software" go to market strategy  was nothing short of brilliant. Keeping the Sun hardware business is Ellison's opportunity to compete head to head with IBM. Oracle would have all the applications and the hardware to run it on. That would be quite a legacy for Ellison.
The US Department of Justice as approved the acquisition. Now, the European Union needs to make a decision before we will get any more answers.

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Why Oracle is NOT going to sell off Sun's hardware business

Why is there such a buzz among the analyst, press, and blogging community that Oracle is going to sell of the Sun hardware business? It makes no sense to me. I shared my thoughts on the acquisition in a previous post, but I am going to elaborate a bit here. Not only do I believe Oracle will continue selling Sun hardware, I think it is the primary reason they bought Sun. Why would Oracle spend $7.4B to buy Sun? Is it for Solaris? I don't think so. Solaris is open source and Sun would have welcomed Oracle's help in tuning the operating system for Oracle's software applications. Is it for Java? That is a little more plausible, but there was no need for Oracle to control Java. As far as I know, Sun was not doing anything to make it difficult for Oracle to use Java. Oracle is buying Sun for the hardware business. The hardware (and support) business is what generates the revenue at Sun. I would like to share a few relevant quotes. The first comes from Larry Ellison in a recent interview. He did his best to shut down the rumor mill churning on what will happen to Sun's hardware business. Interviewer - "Are you going to exit the hardware business?" Larry Ellison - "No, we are definitely not going to exit the hardware business. [...] If a company designs both hardware and software, it can build much better systems than if they only design the software." Laura DiDio, an analyst with ITIC, was quoted in a recent Reuters article. "Sun has three decades and billions of dollars in investment in superlative hardware. They have some brilliant engineers," she said. "But Sun's marketing has not matched its technology. Larry Ellison is brilliant at marketing." Laura is being kind to Sun marketing when she suggests that it has not matched their technology. Sun has struggled to deliver a clear message to the market about their technology. Oracle has roughly 50% market share in the relational database market. They also have a dominant market share in other markets with products like Siebel, BEA, and PeopleSoft. Even a sizable portion of SAP deployments use Oracle DB as the back end database. This means Oracle is sitting in the room when a customer makes their application decision most of the time. This application/software decision is made long before any hardware decisions. The support matrix for the software application has a major influence on the hardware and operating systems decisions. What fibre channel HBA do you run? Probably the one that your storage vendor recommended. Solaris is the number one operating system for Oracle today. Linux was an afterthought for enterprise application deployment until Oracle put their name behind it and started pushing it as the platform for Oracle. What impact Oracle's endorsement of Solaris have on AIX? While Oracle will continue to support the major operating systems in the marketplace, it is only logical that Solaris will become their recommended operating system. Larry suggests in the above interview that Oracle is planning to tightly integrate Oracle with Solaris. That is another logical reason for customers to run on Solaris. If the customer has picked an Oracle software platform and Oracle recommends they run on Solaris, then why not sell them the hardware as well? Oracle has used software pricing to move the market in the past and I expect they will continue the practice. Today, Oracle DB licenses are more cost effective (at list price) for IBM Power CPUs than they are for Sun SPARC CPUs. If Oracle is selling the Sun servers, it only makes sense that it will be more cost effective to deploy the application on Sun servers moving forward. In the future, I can see Oracle selling you 2 sockets of Oracle DB licenses and shipping you a 2 socket server that is included with those licenses to plug into an existing RAC cluster. You are welcome to run on a different platform, but this one is preinstalled and will join your cluster after you answer 3 simple setup questions. Will the Oracle hardware offering bother IBM, EMC, HP, Dell, NetApp, etc? Yes. It will. What can they do though? Recommend a different database? It is to late for that. IBM has DB2, but nobody has a stack that is as complete as Oracle. Perhaps this will drive someone like HP to acquire SAP. Why does Oracle want to keep the Sun hardware business if Sun is losing money? The answer is that Sun is generating positive cash flow from operations every quarter. They post a GAAP loss because they make poor investment decisions and then have to write off those investments. Jonathan Schwartz was promoted to president and COO of Sun in 2004. Under his guidance, Sun paid $4.1B for StorageTek in 2005. In mid-2007, Sun announced a $3B stock buyback. Sun stock fell by nearly 50% in the next 12 months. In 2008, Sun paid ~$1B for mySQL. When Sun's stock price fell and the market cap with it, all of these events required write downs that show a GAAP loss. If Sun would stop spending on acquisitions, their bank balance would be rising every quarter. In the last 4 years, Oracle has acquired over 40 companies. It has built a complete software portfolio that allows them to compete effectively throughout the entire software stack. With the purchase of Sun, they will now own the bottom half of the datacenter stack. The operating system down to the disk drives.

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Oracle to buy Sun for $7.4B - How will it affect the industry?

A few weeks ago, it looked like IBM was going to make a deal to purchase Sun. That fell through when the Sun board could not come to agreement. On April 20th, with very little rumor in the marketplace, Oracle announced they were buying Sun for $7.4B in cash. What does this mean for the new company?

  • To quote a recent Oracle publication, "Oracle plans to engineer and deliver an integrated system – applications to disk – where all the pieces fit and work together, so customers do not have to do it themselves." Sun is already shipping Infiniband switches and blades with InfiniBand on the motherboard. They have also mentioned IB is on the roadmap for the Sun 7000. Andy Bechtolsheim mentioned it at the Sun product announcement on April 14th. What about an integrated Oracle appliance running on Nehalem blades, Solaris x64,  Sun 7000 storage, and using Infiniband switches. It should not be a major technology leap to put it all together. What would this mean for the Oracle/HP appliance?
  • Sun SPARC processors are at an Oracle pricing disadvantage to IBM Power processors in the current Oracle pricing model. Oracle has never been afraid to use pricing to move the market in their direction. Watch for them to use their pricing model to encourage customer to buy Sun servers.
  • Solaris x64 has been intentionally neglected by Oracle. Oracle delivers patches on Solaris SPARC and Linux immediately. Then, they have historically waited up to 6 months to release that same patch for Solaris x64. In the past, this has helped Oracle push their Linux agenda in the marketplace. Given the ease of porting the Oracle patches to Solaris x64, there is no logical technical reason for this lag. Watch for Solaris x64 to become a first class citizen in the Oracle OS support matrix now that growth of Solaris x64 means growth for Oracle.
  • Storage - Sun is not generally thought of as a storage company. However, an Oracle executive recently announced in a Sun all hands meeting that Oracle was buying Sun for Solaris, Java, and storage. Look for the Sun 7000 to pick up some new features to integrate tighter with Oracle. Perhaps Analytics that give visibility across both Oracle, Solaris, and the storage? Oracle performance could benefit from the large cache footprint and even larger flash cache. The Sun 7000 is trying to reduce hardware costs and in the past Oracle has loved reducing hardware costs in order to leave more budget available for software.
  • Servers - I would expect business as usual at Sun on the server front. Oracle has no play in the hardware space today and Sun makes solid products. Sun’s server business generates positive cash flow every quarter. This is part of why they bought Sun, right? According to a recent release from Oracle, "Oracle plans to grow the Sun hardware business after the closing, protecting Sun customers’ investments and ensuring the long-term viability of Sun products."
  • MySQL – Many users adopt MySQL to escape Oracle pricing. The largest market is in the Web 2.0 space, but they play in other parts of the market as well. There is no way to kill MySQL because it is open source. If Oracle/Sun stopped supporting it today, there would be a well funded startup tomorrow stepping in to take their place. Many of my MySQL contacts have already moved on from Sun. In fact, some major MySQL users are turning to the community and other sources for their MySQL support and patches. Oracle already owns TimesTen, Berkeley DB, and InnoDB, so MySQL could just become another DB on the list. If Oracle really wants to put the pressure on Microsoft SQL, then they will encourage the use of MySQL and provide an easy migration path to Oracle DB.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that the IBM deal fell through when the Sun board split into two factions. The one in favor of the IBM deal was led by Jonathan Schwartz and Scott McNealy headed the group opposing the acquisition. When the CEO takes that kind of stand and loses, one must wonder what this foretells of his future. I think there is a high likelihood we will see Jonathan move on to a new opportunity in the next few months.
  • Identity Management - Oracle and Sun have overlapping products here. When both products are 'good enough' I tend to lean towards the buyer. That said, Sun has their product somewhat integrated into Solaris, so I do not think it will go away. This one may be too close to call. There may also be some regulatory scrutiny on this as the combined market share will be significant.
  • Sun IBIS - Sun has been trying to centralize to a single ERP system over that last few years. This is a project that should never have impacted Sun's customers, partners, or suppliers. Unfortunately, there have been a few hiccups and many delays along the way and it has effected many organizations outside of Sun. Look for Oracle to bring the resources to the table to clean this up.
I think we would have seen some serious regulatory scrutiny of the IBM acquisition of Sun. On the surface, it looks like there are very few issues with Oracle and Sun. The only two issues I see are Identity Management and mySQL. I don’t think either one should be a major issue, but the government may. I don’t think Oracle will have a problem finding a workable solution for either potential objection.

A couple thoughts that are a little further out of the box:

  • An Oracle appliance would give Oracle a private cloud play in the datacenter. Oracle has a large cloud presence today with Oracle On Demand. They could position themselves as the enterprise application private and public cloud provider. Cloud computing is the natural evolution of outsourcing. Oracle could compete with IBM Global Services on the high end and Amazon on the low end. Who better to outsource your enterprise applications to than the company that wrote them?
  • DTrace could be integrated into Oracle to provide a whole new level of observablity. What if DTrace had a GUI that was able to observe systems across the database, server, and storage?
  • Oracle is based on transactions and ensuring transactional integrity is maintained all the way from the Oracle DB to the hard drive. Sun's zfs is a transaction engine for storage that is most commonly used to present a filesystem. The zfs transactional model is completely exposed through their API. What would hapen to Oracle performance if they plugged into the zfs transactional engine and took advantage of the zfs integration with SSD/Flash?
  • Oracle could take OpenOffice to market and try to compete with Microsoft for the desktop. I am not suggesting that OpenOffice is perfect or as full featured as Microsoft Office, but Oracle has a history of monetizing software very effectively.
  • Oracle and Sun have both been working on Xen. I assume they are both working on tools to manage virtual environments. Do they try to enter the virtualization space? The hypervisor is well on the way to commoditization (read: free), but what about a virtualization appliance. Sun has the hardware and Oracle does a pretty good job on the software side.
  • Sun is a major proponent of Infiniband. One of the potential limiting factors in Oracle RAC environments is the latency of the cluster interconnect. What impact would Oracle's endrsement of Infiniband have in the marketplace? How would this impact Cisco's Data Center Ethernet (DCE) plans?

What are a couple of the potential challenges in this acquisition?

  • A few analysts have suggested that Oracle will sell off the Sun hardware business. I can not see it. Why would they do that? As mentioned above, Oracle states in the Oracle/Sun FAQ, "Oracle plans to grow the Sun hardware business after the closing, protecting Sun customers’ investments and ensuring the long-term viability of Sun products."
  • Oracle has never had hardware in their portfolio. How does this affect their relationships with IBM, HP, Dell, EMC, and NetApp?
  • Pillar is a small, but very well funded, storage company. Tako Ventures is the largest investor in Pillar and has a seat on the board. Lawrence Investments is the owner or Tako Ventures and Lawrence "Larry" Ellison provides the capital behind Lawrence Investments. So, Larry will own two storage companies when the Sun deal closes.
  • Sun and Oracle have very different cultures at the field level. How will that play out? Given Sun’s latest reorganization, I think the sales organization could be plugged into a new company quite easily. It almost appears like it was designed to be portable. Perhaps that was a design criteria?

How does it affect the rest of the industry?

Once the IBM news broke, it was generally expected that Sun would be acquired. Even if the IBM deal fell through, someone else would buy Sun. I expected it to be one of the major systems vendors such as HP or Dell. If I let my mind wander a bit, I could convince myself that Cisco or EMC might take the opportunity to enter a new space. I did not expect Oracle to jump in and make the deal. I don't think the rest of the industry expected it either. Any company who makes a living selling hardware for enterprise applications in the datacenter is unhappy about this acquisition. Oracle is the largest vendor of enterprise application software. When they sold no hardware, their support matrix and pricing model would drive hardware buying decisions. Now that they will have their own hardware portfolio, I expect them to push customers towards Solaris, Sun storage, and Sun SPARC and x64 servers. The current state of the economy has driven down stock prices. This is a buying opportunity for companies with a war chest. Cisco took out a $4B bond a couple months back, which suggests they are shopping. IBM, EMC, Dell, HP, NetApp, and Cisco and have money to invest. Sun is the first major transaction of the year, but I do not think it will be the last. Full disclosure: My company is a partner of both Sun and Oracle. Update: I have added another post on the subject of Oracle selling off the Sun hardware business

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