The Era of Application-Storage Convergence Has Arrived

Converged infrastructures are emerging as the next “Big Thing” in enterprise datacenters with servers, storage and networking delivered as a single SKU. Yet what providers are beginning to recognize – and what organizations should begin to expect – is that unprecedented jumps in application performance and resource optimization are now possible. The first examples of these jumps are seen in today’s ZS3 Storage Systems announcement from Oracle as it raises the bar in terms of how Oracle Database performance and resource utilization can be delivered while ushering in a new era of application-storage convergence.

Precipitated in large part by server virtualization, a tidal wave of change is sweeping through data centers. Data centers large and small recognize that endless racks of server, storage and networking are yesterday’s news as these configurations leave large amounts of capacity and performance sitting idle even as they waste power and generate heat.

In their place, smaller, more efficient and more powerful hardware solutions have emerged and are being deployed that today’s server virtualization platforms can better utilize. This trend has already led to a number of providers such as Nutanix, Oracle and Scale Computing to offer converged hardware solutions. These solutions bundle server, storage and networking hardware together as a single SKU to accelerate and simplify their purchase and subsequent deployment and management in virtualized environments.

As this occurs, providers are recognizing that delivering all of the hardware components (servers, storage and networking) also gives them new levels of control over and insight into the hardware stack. This opens up unprecedented opportunities for them to accelerate application performance and optimize hardware resource utilization.

Application providers have historically had little or no visibility into the hardware stack in modern data centers as there was little they could do to accelerate performance or optimize resource utilization even if they did have this insight. However the introduction of technologies such as flash memory, large amounts of DRAM and multiple tiers of storage inside of storage arrays makes the ability of applications to communicate with storage arrays a much more interesting proposition as placing the right data on the right tier of storage at the right time can accelerate application performance even as it improves storage utilization.

This proposition becomes even more compelling when one considers the sizes of today’s database that can easily reach into the tens if not hundreds of terabytes (TBs). Optimizing the placement of data within these databases can both accelerate their performance and reduce storage costs. This moves the concept of application-storage convergence from being “highly desirable” to a “must-have” for those organizations that expect to take full advantage of the performance and storage efficiency benefits that current storage arrays now deliver.

Yet what has stood in the way of such application-storage convergence to date is that both the application and the storage are still largely oblivious of one another. The application usually has some knowledge of the tier of disk (flash, FC or SATA) on which its data resides and the network connection (CFS, FC, iSCSI, NFS) it uses to access it and the storage array generally knows what operating systems and applications are accessing it.

Unfortunately that information does little to nothing to improve application performance. Data optimization techniques employed by the storage array are “best guesses” and largely reactive while the application is left without any means to instruct the storage array where to place the data and when to do so.

The Oracle ZS3 Storage Systems change the paradigm of database-blind storage . With ZS3 and Oracle Database 12c, organizations can achieve unprecedented levels of Oracle Database efficiency, performance and storage utilization on hybrid ZS3 Storage System arrays. Here’s how Oracle does it.

First, Oracle databases are now storage-aware. They can send IO metadata directly to the ZS3 Storage Systems using the new Oracle Intelligent Storage Protocol (OISP) that tells these arrays how the data is structured, what data is coming, what data it needs next and even what is optimal block size to use when sending data to and from the storage array.

On the storage side, it recognizes and responds to these instructions from Oracle applications and database to pre-stage frequently accessed data in cache or flash or, conversely, allows large sequential writes to pass directly through to disk. OISP is only available and supported by Oracle ZFS which gives Oracle ZS3 Storage Systems a significant advantage over all other storage arrays in delivering the highest levels of Oracle Database performance.

Further adding to the appeal of this technology particularly notable is that only Oracle storage enables organizations to utilize the full potential of Oracle Database 12c as it automates database-to-storage tuning and data compression. This eliminates the needs for organizations to manually tune database as the storage systems and database work in conjunction with one another to automatically execute these tasks.

Organizations can also benefit from the combination of Automatic Data Optimization (ADO) and Hybrid Columnar Compression (HCC). As DCIG highlighted in a previous blog entry, this automates data compression at various levels based on data heat maps and usage patterns in such a way that it automatically recognizes which data is infrequently accessed content for deep archives to recent data being left uncompressed.

Second, to deliver the high levels of performance that Oracle databases frequently demand, the Oracle ZS3 Storage Systems use a highly threaded symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) architecture. The benefit this provides over many other storage system architectures is that it can handle multiple concurrent streams of I/O without overwhelming the storage system’s processor.

Historically storage system processors have largely been underutilized as organizations were unable to send enough I/O to the storage system to seriously tax its CPUs. However, virtualized workloads have increased both the number of applications and the amount of throughput that applications send to storage systems. Then toss into the mix the high performance requirements of Oracle Databases and you suddenly have storage systems that are running out of CPU to process incoming data.

The SMP architecture used on the ZS3 Storage Systems eliminates this bottleneck in the storage stack allowing it to achieve 450,000 IOPs in 700 microseconds according to the latest SPECsfs results. According to Oracle, this is lower latency than EMC’s recent VNX-2 announcement at less than a quarter of its price.

oracle zs3.JPGSource: Oracle

In other internal benchmarked results, it can handle the application processing on over 2000 VMs with its CPU running at only 33% utilization while the CPUs on other NAS filers max out at 100% supporting the workload of only 250 VMs. This is where the SMP operating system of ZS3 excels as it enables the system to scale linearly in VMware e
ents, which are also a heavy SMP workload.

Server virtualization has already led to one massive wave of changes: organizations of all sizes consolidating and converging their infrastructures. Now another wave of change is about to be unleashed. As organizations converge their infrastructures it opens up new ways for applications to capitalize on the varying sets of features found within these converged infrastructures to both improve application performance and resource utilization.

The only way organizations will ever be able to fully utilize all of the features found in these newly converged and highly virtualized infrastructures is if the management of them from the application level down to the spindle is fully automated. The Oracle ZS3 Storage Systems in conjunction with Oracle Database 12c reflects the first of this next generation of converged application-to-storage solutions and, in so doing, foreshadows the transformation in data center management that is coming to enterprises in the not too distant future.

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