Oracle Launches Low-Cost Storage Initiative

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Using the same "tie together cheap boxes" mindset that it cooked up for its Database 10g push, this time Oracle is applying the idea to cheap storage arrays.

Oracle Corp. is using the same "tie together cheap boxes" mindset that it cooked up for its Database 10g push, but this time, it's applying the idea to cheap storage arrays.

The company earlier this week announced the Resilient Low-Cost Storage Initiative, in which it's teaming up with storage vendors Apple Computer Inc., Dell Inc., EMC Corp., Engenio Information Technologies Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., MPC Computers LLC and Network Appliance Inc.

Andy Mendelsohn, Oracle's senior vice president of Database Server Technologies, told eWEEK.com that Oracle is determined to use the initiative to show customers how they can use storage boxes that are entering the market at the low end and which have been greeted initially with a hairy eyeball.

"We're showing how you can use Serial ATA storage, which people running data warehouses pooh-pooh, saying that the reliability is too low," Mendelsohn said. "Now we say you can run a lot—[although] maybe not the high-end mission-critical [stuff]."

Oracle has done "a lot of work" to make sure customers can run grids on these low-cost boxes, which include EMC and Dell's AX100 and HP's MSA 1500, entry-level SANs (storage area networks) that came out this spring and summer, respectively.

While these boxes are "not as capable" as highly scalable servers, given that they typically can hold only 14 or 15 drives, Oracle's ability to network them and spread the load across a database storage grid paints an entirely different picture in terms of scalability and reliability, according to Juan Loaiza, Oracle's vice president of systems technologies.

"Traditionally, people have used fairly high-cost storage for databases in general," said Loaiza, in Redwood Shores, Calif. "Similar to the way things have been done on the server side, where they use high-cost servers.

"We introduced RAC [Real Application Clusters] on the server side to tie together low-cost servers. This is the same idea on the storage side: Buy several low-cost storage servers and we spread our data across those to ensure high availability and performance."

Next Page: What a low-cost storage array needs.

According to Oracle, a low-cost storage array must implement these core features: networked storage, Inter-Operability Certification, remote management and failure alerts, and high availability.

That's a list that came at least in part from Oracle's internal IT department, whose members got annoyed when they began tinkering with low-cost storage boxes that were a bit too low-cost, Loaiza said. "Originally, we started looking at really cheap boxes made by no-name vendors," he said. "They didn't have some of these capabilities" such as remote management and failure notification.

"Our IT department didn't like them," Loaiza said. "They said, 'The box fails, and we don't know what's going on.' They insisted, 'If you're going to do this, it has to be remote management and notification.'"

Oracle is now internally storing the Collaboration Suite database it uses in development on three Apple Xserve Raid boxes, each holding 3.5 terabytes.

Click here to read about a Gartner survey finding that Apple doubled quarterly sales of Xserve G5 servers over a year.

Oracle is running the setup on a RAC cluster, and each node runs Oracle's ASM (Automatic Storage Management).

On the host side, Oracle uses four Dell Linux boxes, and on the storage side resides the array of the three Apple boxes. The setup is housing Oracle e-mail, voice mail, faxes and files.

The Xserve boxes were a pleasant surprise, Loaiza said. While Apple doesn't have a big name in the storage industry, it was early to market for low-cost storage arrays, initially coming out with a cheap box about 1.5 years ago and into its third generation by now.

The companies in the initiative will work together to develop optimized database storage configurations and best practices for the deployment of low-cost storage with Oracle Database 10g. ASM's data-mirroring in particular will ensure high availability, Loaiza said.

"We're providing availability from a higher perspective," he said. "We will mirror the data across boxes: We'll write one copy into one storage array and the mirror copy into another storage array. … This is not going to be as reliable as your $2 million array, each of these $10,000 boxes. But the way we will configure it, if any box dies, it doesn't matter. We mirror across the boxes."

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Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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