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Oracle cloud storage embraces ZFS Storage Appliance

New Oracle operating system update enables ZFS Storage Appliance to transfer file- and block-based data to Oracle Storage Cloud without an external cloud gateway.

Oracle unveiled a new "cloud converged storage" option to enable customers to extend their on-premises storage into the company's public cloud without an external cloud gateway.

Oracle's ZFS Operating System 8.7 launched this week allows users to transfer file- and block-based data between the high-performance ZFS Storage Appliance and the object-based Oracle Storage Cloud. Data going into the appliance can also be object-based.

Steve Zivanic, vice president of storage and cloud IaaS and converged infrastructure at Oracle, said Oracle cloud storage "looks, feels and acts" just like another disk to the ZFS Storage Appliance. He compared the level of integration to Apple's iPhone and iCloud storage.

Zivanic said Oracle's new cloud converged storage option would enable customers to eliminate the need to buy a cloud gateway, as well as the "cloud entrance tax" charged by some backup software and on-premises infrastructure vendors. He said customers asked Oracle for a way to avoid paying for "cloud access licenses" to move data out of their on-premises storage hardware.

Oracle ZFS Storage Appliance
The Oracle ZFS Storage Appliance from Oracle Corp.

"We were thinking they meant cloud service subscriptions. But, no, they were very clear," Zivanic said. "What they meant is they are actually paying hardware vendors just for the right to subscribe to public cloud storage. That's analogous to paying AOL for the right to access the internet circa 2000. There's no value add, and customers eventually look for more direct routes to avoid this middle layer."

He said the Oracle ZFS Appliance supports OpenStack Swift APIs and is designed to transfer file- and block-based data only to Oracle cloud storage. Zivanic said a customer would need to buy a third-party gateway to use an outside public cloud such as Amazon or Google, but Oracle would not charge a "cloud access license" fee.

"We are not integrating the ZFS Storage Appliance with anything but the [Oracle] Storage Cloud with this particular announcement," Zivanic said. "If somebody wants to use a ZFS [appliance] with any other cloud, they can definitely use that. There's absolutely no lock-in. Everything we have is based on industry standards."

Zivanic said the Oracle ZFS Storage Appliance does not support the Amazon S3 API, but the Oracle Storage Cloud does support the popular S3 API.

Hard to fly from cloud to cloud

Marc Staimer, founder of Dragon Slayer Consulting, said upcoming products aim to help enterprises move data from one cloud to another, but it would still be difficult to shift data between public clouds.

I'm not totally surprised that Oracle has rolled this out, but I am surprised that they get to be the leader in the market here.
Mike Matchettsenior analyst and consultant, Taneja Group

"When you put data in any of these clouds, it's like the "Hotel California" from The Eagles. You can check in, but you're not going to check out very easily because of the enormous amount of time and high cost to move it out," Staimer said. "And, more importantly, you're not going to get the free data migration services to move it in. How are you going to move petabytes of data over the wire in any short period of time? Cloud storage is incredibly sticky."

Use cases that Oracle cited for its cloud converged storage include backup and recovery, archives, development and testing, snapshot replicas and elastic application storage. Oracle said the new option is also well-suited to DevOps environments by enabling the use of a single API for both on-premises and Oracle cloud storage.

Dave Vellante, chief researcher at Wikibon, said Oracle's approach of using the same infrastructure in the cloud as on premises is a "smart move" and unusual in the IT business. He said Microsoft (with its Azure Stack) and, to a lesser extent, IBM, come closest at this point, and major clouds such as Amazon Web Services have no on-premises strategy.

"Everyone talks about hybrid cloud, but no one really has integrated hybrid cloud," Vellante said. "What they have is some level of orchestration and management, but often it's clumsy, not well-documented and definitely not seamless. If Oracle delivers, this is a strong example. They're not 100% there in terms of execution, but their strategy and where they're spending money is moving toward that direction."

Oracle's Zivanic said the ZFS Storage Appliance runs 70% to 90% of all I/O through DRAM cache on the front end and offers disk, flash and cloud options for persistent storage. An all-flash storage pool is a new option enabled with the latest OS release.

The ZFS cloud software that is part of the new 8.7 OS release is available at no additional cost to customers.

Dragon Slayer Consulting's Staimer said he compared the cost of Oracle cloud storage to options from other major vendors and found Oracle's offerings to be equivalent or less, depending on the service and any cloud access storage "taxes" such as cloud gateways or third-party software that might need to be taken into account.

Rollout part of Oracle pledge

The rollout is part of Oracle's pledge to go cloud-first with its technology, which was a key strategy with its Oracle Database 12c Release 2 in September 2016.

"I'm not totally surprised that Oracle has rolled this out, but I am surprised that they get to be the leader in the market here," Mike Matchett, a senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group, wrote in an email. "Why doesn't Dell EMC have this straightforward offering with their enterprise storage and cloud solutions? Despite having all the parts at hand for years, they failed to integrate together the obvious and long-desired converged solution."

He said some legacy vendors don't even offer cloud services. "Maybe they were hoping this cloud thing would just blow over," Matchett wrote.

Matchett said most Oracle storage makes its way into enterprise through the database, but he thinks users outside the database realm might want to look at Oracle storage because of its cost, scalability, performance and the new converged cloud offering.

Oracle also added deeper integration between the ZFS Storage Appliance and the Oracle Database through the Oracle Intelligent Storage Protocol 2.0. The database passes along "hints" on every I/O to enable the ZFS Storage Appliance to prioritize I/Os and auto-tune the system, according to Nancy Hart, director of product management for the Oracle ZFS Storage Appliance.

One key capability for customers using ZFS Storage Appliance with Oracle cloud storage is data reduction. The system stores the hash table for deduplicated/compressed data in the metadata that is wrapped up with the object in Oracle cloud storage, according to Hart. So, if a user deduped data at one data center and stored it in the cloud, and a colleague wanted to restore the data to a ZFS Storage Appliance in another city, the colleague could rehydrate the data because the hash table comes with it, she said.

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