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Postcard from Oracle OpenWorld 2014: The Oracle FS1 Flash Array

by VIOLIN SYSTEMS on October 13, 2014

OOW14

A couple of weeks ago, along with thousands of other people, I attended Oracle OpenWorld 2014 in San Francisco. There were lots of announcements and lots of opportunities to learn (especially at the excellent OakTable World conference-within-a-conference). My personal favourite session was Jeremiah Wilton's talk on running Oracle on Amazon Cloud Services - I think a whole essay could be written on Oracle's Cloud Licensing Policy. And as Steve Karam has already pointed out, the overwhelming message of OOW14 was cloud, cloud cloud. It seems that Larry no longer likes to talk about on-premise.

But I don't want to talk about cloud. My perspective of OOW comes from that of a storage vendor - and for us vendors there was an interesting announcement tucked away beneath all the cloud hyperbole.

The Oracle FS1 Storage Array

Just to be clear, I'm not here to deliver a technical analysis of the FS1. As a database guy I have many colleagues and contacts in the storage industry who are much better qualified to discuss this product (especially those who are ex-Pillar Data Systems, because the FS1 is after all simply the next-generation Pillar Axiom with SSDs).

But as with my tracking of the History of Exadata, I like to watch Oracle's marketing strategy around its products - I often find you can read more between the lines than you can get simply from buying into the marketing hype. (And let's face it, Oracle does like a bit of marketing hype.)

Surprise Announcements

The release of the FS1 caught most people by surprise as it was not advertised prior to OpenWorld commencing. After Larry Ellison mentioned it during his keynote, a new session was announced with the catchy name "Introducing the Oracle FS1 Series: Taking Flash Storage into the Mainstream" delivered in almost evangelical style by none other than Mike Workman (previously the CEO of Pillar and now SVP of Oracle Flash Storage Systems). And I was in the room, eagerly awaiting the news.

Now based on my experience of working for vendors (including Oracle) the first thing I think when I hear of surprise announcements is that they are rushing something forward for the purposes of marketing noise - something that perhaps isn't quite ready. Could that be the case here?

In my opinion and based on this session, emphatically yes. The session introducing the FS1 was incredibly light on details, but - adopting an age-old Oracle tactic - packed full of attacks on competitors. And nobody got attacked more than EMC's XtremIO all flash array. Here's one sample slide:

Can you see the small print at the bottom of this slide? I couldn't - and I was sitting four rows from the front. Can you see the small print at the bottom of this slide? I couldn't - and I was sitting four rows from the front.

Ironically, this was the first year I can remember where EMC didn't have a stand in the exhibition hall (in 2013 their stand was one of the biggest at the show). I noticed that the guy sat next to me was an EMC employee so after the session ended I asked him what he thought. "Thanks Oracle for all the free marketing!", was the reply.

Only a few high-level details came out of the session. For example, we learnt that the FS1 took three years to develop and can have up to four tiers of storage:

  • Performance Flash (actually 400GB SSDs)
  • Capacity Flash (again via 1.6TB SSDs)
  • Performance HDD (300GB or 900GB disk drives)
  • Capacity Disk (4TB disk drives)

That's a lot of disk. Keep that in mind for later.

Marketing Claims

I quite enjoyed the FS1 introduction session, although I suspect not necessarily in the way I was supposed to. It certainly made me smile when Mr Workman made this statement:

"The Oracle FS1 is the first mainstream, general purpose flash array"

Mainstream? General purpose? Here at Violin Systems we have numerous customers running multiple, mixed workloads on our award-winning 6000 series all flash arrays:

And so on... I even know of a customer who uses a Violin array as a file server! Sounds pretty general purpose to me. And to be fair, I'd be surprised if some of the other all flash array vendors weren't puzzled by Oracle's claim too.

But a more confusing comment from Mr Workman was this:

"It's NOT a hybrid array"

Remember that bit about four tiers of storage, two SSD and two HDD? In what way is that not a hybrid array? Does Oracle consider the phrase "hybrid array" beneath it? I notice that Oracle's FS1 home page and the associated press release both steer clear of using the H-word. Sadly the media hasn't received that memo, so the headlines still call it a hybrid - as will the rest of us, I'm sure.

Conclusion

As the FS1 product nears the point where it's ready for launch (rather than pre-launch) I'm sure we'll find out more about it. Maybe some of the storage players will comment - although so far all I've seen is varying degrees of apathy. Who knows, maybe it will revolutionise the world of storage. But until then - and while all we have is "9x faster than Y" claims - it feels like another triumph of hype over substance.

No offence Oracle, but until you come up with something more concrete I'm just going to think of it as the BS1 Flash Storage Array...