Some of you blog readers enjoy a good dust-up between industry bloggers. Well, so do I.
When Oracle announced they were getting into the storage biz with their Exadata storage server, I wrote a post expressing my skepticism. So did many others as well.
And now, as a result, it looks like Kevin and I might be exchanging words in the near future :-)
What's This All About?
Well, it's about Oracle getting into the storage business, for one thing. And perhaps a continual problem they've been having with DW performance: losing market share to more specialized players.
Rather than focusing solely on software, they've got the route of offering a pre-configured behemoth from HP running (according to Kevin) a customized version of Oracle you can't run anywhere else, making like-for-like comparisons somewhat difficult.
In his last post, it's pretty obvious that -- based on his condescending and somewhat nasty tone -- that I got under his skin a bit. I've usually found that the vitriol in a response is in direct correlation to the sensitivity of the issue I've raised.
So it must have been a very sensitive issue indeed.
Rather than back off, I now (somewhat strangely) feel compelled to bore in a bit, and explore this in more depth.
Come, join me on a an interesting journey here ...
So, Let's Dig In
My first general argument was -- what does this particular hardware bring to the picture, other than a cosy marketing relationship?
From a purely hardware perspective, we've got "storage nodes" (ostensibly generic HP x64 server kit with a $449 P400 RAID controller) running in a 12 SAS disks to 1 server ratio. The disk is mirrored, no support of any space-saving RAID options -- strange, for such a large machine.
The "storage nodes" are interconnected to "database nodes" via Infiniband, and I questioned (based on our work in this environment) whether this was actually a bottleneck being addressed, or whether it was a bit of marketing flash in a world where multiple 1Gb ethernet ports seem to do as well.
Kevin seemed to take issue with my characterization of the storage subsystem as JBOD, and not "smart". He's right about that, technically speaking that would make it a DAS (direct attached storage) configuration, as opposed to SAN, NAS or other topologies.
However, I don't think too many storage people would look at a $449 SAS RAID controller with 512MB of RAM and an "optional battery backup unit for cache" as excessively "smart".
Kevin seemed to agree (it's not clear, though) that the Infiniband didn't bring much to the party. We'll leave that one open for now, pending further clarification by Kevin.
And, with regards to disk hardware, he didn't try to justify the RAID 1 on either performance or availability grounds (debatable, though), but did seem to state that I had a certain lack of imagination as to what might be possible in the future.
Being a storage guy, I know that the real issue isn't the disk, it's being able to get to your data if one of the "storage nodes" fails. And since this type of architecture doesn't know how to share storage, you're forced with putting all of your data in two places, in case one node fails. Unlikely that we'll see something more space efficient in the forseeable future.
And Then There's The Open Software Question
Not "open" in the sense of open source code et. al., but open in the sense of "I can run this software on any reasonable choice of server and storage".
Kevin is pretty clear that this particular version of Oracle is available in one place and one place only -- the hardware that Oracle sells.
Now, we could debate the pros and cons of this (as I'm sure will be debated in the future), but it's a clear departure from past Oracle "runs on anything" strategy.
And you just have to ask yourself the question -- why is this?
I'm guessing that all Oracle sees is a version of Linux. Probably not Oracle's version, since I understand that HP has its own versions that it prefers, but I could be incorrect on this. It doesn't see the "smart" RAID controller. It doesn't see the Infiniband, that's abstracted as well.
So it appears to be a "business choice", rather than a technical requirement.
From a purely customer perspective, it makes it hard to see how much value comes from the hardware, and how much comes from the software. We'll never see side-by-side comparisons of this particular software running on potentially faster/cheaper/better servers and storage, will we?
Alternative Approaches To Scale-Out
Scaling out a DW environment horizontally is nothing really new, not even for Oracle environments. Indeed, EMC and Oracle (along with Dell) have done scale-outs with moderate-sized arrays (not big honkin' ones as Kevin suggests), moderate processors and standard-grade 1Gb ethernet connections.
We get pretty good cost-effective DW performance this way, not only with Oracle, but with DATAllegro, Vertica, SQLserver, UDB and a bunch of others. And, taking this approach, there are great answers for things like backup, business continuity, security, storage management and every other joy that comes along with having dozens of terabytes of important data in a DW/BI environment.
From what we can tell about Oracle's standard pricing (exclusive of the steep discounts they're currently offering to get people to try this stuff), it looks like a very, very expensive solution by comparison. [Warning: the power that these machines consume is not free ... if I get a moment, I'll get someone to run a power usage comparison. I'm guessing it'll be eye-opening, given what they're doing on the hardware architecture]
If it ran faster than other alternatives, at least we'd have a basis for comparison.
But we're not going to get that anytime soon, are we?
And, An Apology, Sort Of
Thoughout his post, Kevin takes me to task for not researching white papers, his previous posts, etc. and thus came to some incorrect conclusions, particularly in regards to the nature of the software that Oracle is promoting as part of this bundle.
Sorry, Kevin, I could have done a bit more homework in this regard -- thanks for clarifying.
This Should Be Interesting
The real focus here should be software, not hardware.
As an example, HP appears to be selling the same kit with other environments, including their own. And we see plenty of aggressive startups delivering stellar performance and functionality while still, somehow, allowing customers to separate the hardware and software choice.
Well, if Oracle wants into the hardware business, they're going to have to earn it.
And I'd suggest the best way to do this would be to have the hardware stand on its own two feet.
Courteous comments welcome, as always!