Oracle FS1 Storage: Takes Flexible Flash to a New Extreme

Storage Systems Brief
Oracle FS1 Storage: Takes Flexible Flash to a New Extreme
Date: October 2014 Author: Mark Peters, Senior Analyst
Abstract: Oracle’s new flagship enterprise SAN product is called the FS1 (where the FS stands for Flash Storage). It
sports just about every feature and function users have come to expect in that market segment…but then adds
important and valuable twists of its own: It was designed and built as an all-flash system (for powerful performance)
but it can also run a variable percentage of spinning drives (for bulk economics), if desired. In addition, Oracle has
wrapped sub-LUN auto-tiering, extended QoS abilities, and secure system partitioning in a compelling manner that
can be attractive to any enterprise user; and finally—perhaps most useful of all to the Oracle faithful—the FS1 is of
course tuned to work best with Oracle Database, applications, and the “red stack.”
Oracle’s New FS1 SAN Storage System
At Oracle Open World 2014, Oracle unveiled its flagship SAN system, the FS1. Effectively the vendor is extending the
idea of what it called “Application Engineered Storage,” which it used when launching the ZS3 NAS product a year ago. In
other words, Oracle is focusing its storage emphasis on applications and data: This is partly about suitability for a
number of applications (virtual environments, for instance) but it is also very specifically about a symbiotic integration
with specific applications (Oracle databases and applications are the prime example). But the FS1 is also simply an
excellent, high-performance, flexible, highly-featured block-storage package, which could and should find a market
outside of the Oracle base as well as in it.
The foundations of some of the key differentiable FS1 system capabilities can be found in the Axiom storage systems
that Oracle acquired when it took control of Pillar Data in 2011.1 But this is not just an upgraded version of an existing
product; it is a complete rebuild from the ground up, designed to take advantage of all that flash storage offers. The FS1
has an entirely new operating system—Oracle 64-bit Linux—and over five million lines of code that build upon
foundational IP from Axiom, including an extensive set of data services and a multitude of additional innovations around
quality-of-service (QoS) and business priorities that pertain to serving data. The rest of the system is not only “replumbed” but is also redesigned and eschews custom hardware in favor of all-standard Oracle server hardware; this
allows for technology waves to be ridden easily and rapidly.
The FS1, of course, has enormous scalability, but it is the enhanced performance and “better together with Oracle apps”
(or indeed “better for pretty-much any application”) integration that truly sets this product apart. Of course raw
performance matters in our contemporary IT world of increasing virtualization, application demands, and user
expectations. But, to be fair, many vendors can deliver impressive results in this area. The real differentiators for the FS1
are the unique offerings Oracle provides to dynamically and automatically co-engineer applications and storage so as to
provide special functionalities that can drive operational and financial advantages for its users.
Market Position and Progress: While still a relatively small part of the overall Oracle mix, Oracle storage revenue
nonetheless exceeds $1B, making the company one of the bigger “rising” players in the space: Oracle knows that storage
incumbency is hard to change, but the flip side is of course that there’s plenty of market left for it to attack. It is this
growth potential that is no doubt attractive to an organization whose core business is simultaneously getting harder to
increase, but that also provides fertile soil for Oracle storage to plant its wares. The ZS3 has already demonstrated the
kind of worldwide success that the company hopes the FS1 can emulate: There are over 4,000 Oracle ZFS Storage
Appliance users, and they are running more than 14,000 systems; moreover, hundreds of petabytes of ZS3 are the
dominant storage underpinning the Oracle Cloud, which handles tens of millions of users and hundreds of millions of
This brief does not seek to replace or replicate a datasheet. For a full description of the FS1, visit, and for a more analytical exploration
of the product’s underlying Pillar Storage Axiom basics, see the ESG White Paper: Oracle’s Pillar Axiom 600: A Great Fit in an Increasingly Broad
Oracle Portfolio, published December 2011.
© 2014 by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Storage Systems Brief: Oracle FS1 Storage: Takes Flexible Flash to a New Extreme
database transactions per hour. That said, block storage SANs remain the biggest element of the enterprise storage
market and Oracle clearly wants and needs a product with which it can command a material market share.
Oracle FS1: Key Features and Functions
The Basics
At the end of the day, this is a storage system, so a few highlights of its “headline” specifications and functions must be
included here for context.
The Oracle FS1 Storage System is a high-performance, enterprise-grade SAN that is designed around four
tiers of storage: performance flash, capacity flash, performance disk, and capacity disk. The system can be
configured as all flash, all HDD, or any mix of both; this flexibility gives users the choice to balance both
performance (flash) and economics (HDD) as they need and want.2
As a dual-node system it can scale up to nearly 1PB of flash and close to 3PB of overall capacity if needed.3 It
scales out to 16 HA nodes, and can deliver 2M 50/50 mixed read/write I/Os at up to 80GB/sec throughput. It
is designed to deliver consistent, predictable and sustained high performance.
All the commonly expected data service features (such as thin provisioning, snapshots, clones, QoS Plus,
auto-tiering, storage domains, and more) are included with the product…and in the basic price.
Furthermore, all the common OS flavors are supported, including IBM AIX, HP-UX, Microsoft Windows, and
VMware, as well as Oracle Linux, Solaris, and VM.
And, of course, this being 2014, you can manage it all from your iPhone!
So far, so good. Even this little summary would register the FS1 as a commendable market entrant. But then the Oracle
FS1 starts adding functionality that really drives application-specific business value. While some other vendors might
have some element(s) of these advanced capabilities, the overall package that Oracle has constructed is both relevant
and compelling.
Advanced Capabilities
The main issue that Oracle is seeking to address with the following abilities is the fact that most storage is simply not the
sharpest knife in the IT drawer. Storage systems are invariably simply recipients and inactive repositories. This is because
they are not connected in any meaningful way to applications and, as a result, cannot make any adjustments to help
serve differing or changing requirements (whether those be performance, priority, SLA, or capacity). The standard
fallback method (because often it is the only choice) is a homo sapien…but today’s storage world is too big, too complex,
and too fast-moving for this to be a good or optimized option. Instead, the FS1 offers advanced and automated
functions that include the following:
“QoS Plus” is Oracle-patented management software that drives the FS1 tiering to optimize performance,
cost, access frequency, and business value—it is based on SLOs and is:
Granular: At 640K, the blocks of data that get moved are, according to Oracle, “Goldilocks-sized”: just
right! The frequency of movement is extremely flexible and can be user-defined or automated.
Adaptive: Reacting to changes in needs and resources.
Anticipatory: This means optimizing I/Os in line with business priorities, rather than simply, for instance,
responding to access patterns or adopting a first-in-first-out (FIFO) data service policy.
100% automated: It is adaptive and autonomous for 100% of key management tasks.
One-click application provisioning means built-in, pre-tested, and tuned application profiles (which can be
user-customized if required) save administration time/costs and deliver optimized performance for specific
The FS1 can serve as NAS, too—so, like the ZS3 device, it is a unified platform in reality, but each is marketed to its main strength.
These numbers are for each two-node building block; in other words, flash capacity alone could exceed 7PB in a fully scaled-out system!
© 2014 by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Storage Systems Brief: Oracle FS1 Storage: Takes Flexible Flash to a New Extreme
applications, including (of course!) Oracle Database and Applications such as Siebel, PeopleSoft, JDEdwards
One, E-Business Suite, and many others.
Secure multi-tenancy creates separate, isolated “domains” (think of them as “virtual storage machines”) for
specific client applications within the single system. This capability is ideal for companies looking to offer ITas-a-service to different lines of business (LOBs) within an organization; each LOB can have its own private,
secure domain with individual QoS Plus settings. Of course the ability is also therefore extremely well-suited
for cloud service providers looking to provide dedicated resources with specific priority levels for individual
All of these tools serve to ensure that the best, and most appropriate, level of service is consistently and economically
delivered for each workload and application served by the FS1. Like such terms as “cloud” and “software-defined
storage,” “storage QoS” is a term that lacks precise definition and can therefore be either too broadly or unfairly applied
by multiple vendors. Simply and evenly constraining the supply of storage resources (“throttling”) when demand
increases is a common form of service control, but is not the advanced and flexible level of QoS that Oracle has on the
FS1. As anyone who has been around the storage world for any length of time will attest, “storage ain’t easy” and so it is
reassuring to know that the “DNA” of this capability goes all the way back to 2001 when Pillar pioneered QoS as one of
Axiom’s foundational principles. FS1 users can therefore benefit from a field-tested and proven QoS that has been
extensively used in enterprise-class deployments; in addition, today’s users will have the “business value” of their data
added as a parameter to the existing performance, cost, and access frequency QoS management.
Storage QoS is suddenly becoming noticed and trendy (for good reason, it should be added!) but Oracle can certainly not
be accused of jumping on the bandwagon. When ESG reviewed the Pillar Axiom back in 2011, our analysis stated: “But
what really sets the Pillar Axiom apart is its ability to support Quality-of-Service (QoS) policies and tiered storage
throughout the system.”4 Sometimes, longevity and experience are invaluable!
So, now we have seen a system that can deliver specific and optimized value for a whole range of applications and
workloads. As such, the FS1 starts to look like a highly attractive enterprise storage option…a great mainstream
workhorse. But the icing on the cake for Oracle database and applications users is yet to come.
Oracle on Oracle ‘Better Together’ Capabilities
While all these basic and advanced capabilities constitute an impressive and more-than-competitive storage system, the
“Oracle application engineered” functions are worthy of special note. These “better together” technologies are what
Oracle promised after its various acquisitions (especially Sun and Pillar on the storage hardware side) and they can
provide significant operational and financial value to Oracle software users. In simple terms, they are possible because
the Oracle database and applications are Oracle-storage-aware, and vice versa. While each is a specific capability, they
are all part of a fully automated database-to-storage tuning and compression capability:
Hybrid Columnar Compression (HCC) is not new, but is valuable inasmuch as it can dramatically reduce the
physical storage capacity requirements for Oracle databases by up to an astounding 50X. This not only saves
both CapEx and OpEx but also speeds database queries (which in turn can of course save and/or make
money for organizations).
Automatic Data Optimization (ADO) is a functionality that increases Oracle Database 12c efficiency and
performance by dynamically moving data across different types of storage based on heat maps of data
usage patterns, not just by tiering, but also by simultaneously using the HCC compression to multiply the
benefits. This means different algorithms and degrees of effort, not only for varying types of data but also
across data lifecycles. It is the epitome of “different horses for different courses.” FS1 and Oracle Database
12c will now automatically determine which data sets should be compressed for deep archival and which
should be left uncompressed for more frequent accessibility.
Application Profiles come built into FS1 and provide one-click sub-application level provisioning for key
Oracle applications such as JD Edwards One, People Soft, E-Business Suite, Siebel, and others. Using the
profiles QoS level, access, I/O bias, and thin provisioning are auto selected based on Oracle’s best practices
Source: ESG White Paper, Oracle’s Pillar Axiom 600: A Great Fit in an Increasingly Broad Oracle Portfolio, December 2011.
© 2014 by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Storage Systems Brief: Oracle FS1 Storage: Takes Flexible Flash to a New Extreme
recommendations. In turn, Application Profiles also automatically and dynamically tune critical Oracle
Database components such as redo logs and control files. Users will now only need to make one provisioning
click versus ten, 20, or more, and so could save hours when deploying and tuning applications, depending on
the storage involved.
Oracle Enterprise Manager allows for the central management and control of the FS1 along with multiple
other aspects of the Oracle ecosystem. It makes for easy and efficient administration, again controlling
operational expense.
The potential value of these abilities (and others that are “slated” to follow) is not only significant to users, of course,
but is also crucial to Oracle because it provides a key lever, with hard dollar signs attached, which it can use to
encourage the otherwise challenging task (frankly, this applies pretty much however good one’s raw storage system is)
of persuading customers to pass over their traditional storage supplier and move to, or at least add, Oracle storage to
their current environment.
That completes the summary, with some initial analysis, of the Oracle FS1 Storage offering. It has excellent “basics,”
adds valuable QoS Plus functionality that can be used by all, and completes things with Oracle-specific co-engineered
capabilities. It appears that Oracle has built a smart, self-optimizing storage system that combines the right amount of
intelligent caching, flash, and disk with granular QoS Plus that aligns to contemporary application, operational, and
financial needs.5 But, can this translate into market success?
Market Implications, Opportunity, and Relevance
Of course, the storage market is valued at tens of billions of dollars, so there is a lot being bought every day and plenty
of opportunity for a $1B player to grow, especially a player with reach (some 400,000 customers!) and brand recognition
like Oracle. So, what is the user relevance of what FS1 can deliver? Let’s look at this from the product perspective and
then the market perspective.
In terms of the product, FS1 has all the right attributes, functional bells and whistles, and support to appeal to a broad
range of users, whether they are Oracle customers or not. It is extremely broad in capability and scale, and flexible in
terms of its media mix and hence its cost/performance. In addition, it offers extremely high performance (clearly a good
thing when your “job #1 market” is the database world!) and can be highly cost-efficient in terms of TCO. What this all
amounts to is a system that can boost business value and contain costs so as to drive a better return on investment. And
that is exactly the mix of outcomes that respondents in ESG’s annual IT spending research reported as the most
important considerations when justifying IT investments to their business management teams (see Figure 1).6
And, as already explained, the FS1 product gets even more attractive, both operationally and financially, if the target
buyer is an Oracle database and applications user. The use of tools such as HCC and ADO (which attack costs by reducing
storage capacity demands and automating storage management) can reduce TCO and improve performance, which are
key desires of IT users.7
Turning to a market perspective, the potential for the Oracle FS1 also looks rosy for a couple of key reasons:
1. Both convergence and an application focus are current “names of the game.” IT is increasingly about delivering
business value and is considerably less focused on the “how” than achieving the appropriate “what” (this being a
business outcome—in other words, a successful application). Oracle (that’s the overall Oracle of course) has a huge
play here. Even the original idea that a “converged stack,” of which Oracle is perhaps the most complete example in
business IT, can lead to being trapped by vendor lock-in is being subsumed by both the potential for better value,
and the knowledge that users don’t have to limit themselves to one stack for everything (think of the way that
multiple server hypervisors are becoming the norm, for instance).
Sentence adapted from a quotation provided by ESG to the Oracle FS1 press release.
Source: ESG Research Report: 2014 IT Spending Intentions Survey, February 2014.
7 Ibid.
© 2014 by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Storage Systems Brief: Oracle FS1 Storage: Takes Flexible Flash to a New Extreme
Figure 1. Most Important Considerations for Justifying IT Investments
Which of the following considerations do you believe will be most important in justifying IT
investments to your organization’s business management team over the next 12 months?
(Percent of respondents, N=562, three responses accepted)
Return on investment
Reduction in operational expenditures
Business process improvement
Improved security/risk management
Reduction in capital expenditures
Improved regulatory compliance
Reduced time-to-market for our products or services
Speed of payback
Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, 2014.
2. Oracle has a massive customer base that should be more than amenable to at least hear its storage message.
Regardless of the improved “better together” benefits that the FS1 offers in those places, let’s remember that
Oracle is in its own way the incumbent in such user environments and, indeed, the application groups there can
sometimes be something of an “inside track” compared with the infrastructure groups. The opportunity that the
base represents leads to an interesting internal debate at Oracle: Should it even try to sell elsewhere? The answer to
date is an emphatic “yes,” if for no other reasons than that most users are heterogeneous to some degree and if
Oracle is to be a genuine storage leader, it must play in the heterogeneous sandbox.
Of course all is not completely perfect or plain sailing for Oracle’s storage group: It is part of a company with a $170B
current market value focused on thousands of products, as compared with companies such as EMC or NetApp that are
primarily focused on storage. This situation is mitigated by the trend towards both a converged and/or cloudy world,
where the traditional close examination of every intricate component often plays second fiddle to the prescribed and
committed business outcome. That said, in a market that is moving to convergence, Oracle represents such a significant
commercial threat that just about every other vendor in the storage world would prefer to lose to anyone other than
Oracle...meaning that it attracts more than a healthy dose of “FUD.” This of course explains Oracle’s determined effort
to promote the fact that it has achieved relevance and something of a critical mass with its other major storage product,
the ZS3.
© 2014 by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Storage Systems Brief: Oracle FS1 Storage: Takes Flexible Flash to a New Extreme
The Bigger Truth
The bottom line here is pretty simple and does not need—as all too often seems to be a prerequisite in IT and storage—
to be full of finesse and subtlety. First and foremost, the FS1 product line offers exceptionally high performance, and is
well tuned to today’s market needs in terms of providing an attractive TCO by offering the choice of flash and HDD.
Secondly, the extended “application engineered” capabilities of the FS1 in concert with Oracle database and applications
are the very embodiment of the company’s “better together” strategy, and, of course, the flip side is also true: Oracle
database users who are not already operating Oracle storage should at least consider it because there are likely to be
significant financial and operations benefits in which they are not partaking.
So, what might stop Oracle storage from taking huge market-share strides pretty soon, especially now that it has both
the FS1 and the ZS3 together with things like Exadata and the StorageTek tape libraries? Well, natural conservatism and
“incumbency stickiness” on the one hand, and lack of accurate awareness on the other. Oracle can do a lot about the
latter itself; the former takes longer to fix. However, users (whether running Oracle software or not) are likely to be
pleasantly surprised when they do take a look at FS1. Oracle needs to promote and parlay the successes of its existing
storage users to gradually nibble away at the broader available market. Those existing storage users in turn will find that
their storage budgets will buy them a lot more with FS1, whether that’s data warehousing/business intelligence,
virtualization, e-mails,…or, of course, [Oracle] database queries. Oracle certainly has the tools—product, support, time,
and money—to do this and its new FS1 opens the door to that opportunity much wider than ever before.
To try to summarize the product and its “play,” it is helpful to look at it from three angles:
As a standalone product: The FS1 is a more-than-capable enterprise competitor. While other vendors will
no doubt attack it as “just another hybrid SAN,” Oracle can point to its flash-focused-ground-up design,
emphasizing that many hybrids simply add flash to an HDD-based architecture and compromise much,
whereas the FS1 is designed to offer the best of both the speed of flash and the economics of HDDs (the
financial logic of keeping HDDs in the mix for most users for the long term is irrefutable). With its extensive
scale-up and scale-out ability (rare in the all-flash world), the FS1 can support aggressive consolidation
efforts without resorting to “islands” of storage. It is not just a mainstream enterprise work-horse because
all users can benefit from the sophisticated QoS Plus, auto-tiering, and secure domain partitions.
As an Oracle-with-Oracle product: The integration through co-engineering across Oracle products is a
cornerstone of the vendor’s strategy…and tools like HCC and ADO demonstrate that the approach can
deliver significant end-user value. The integration goes beyond such obvious headline stories, however.
There is tuning across the board, with the Oracle database and applications, as well as ASM and RAC, etc.,
and the FS1 is not only coded to smoothly ride the Oracle server curve, but is also designed to share
hardware elements with the ZS3…both approaches that help to contain costs for Oracle and, ultimately, for
its users. Indeed, now that it has products built upon its own IP, and not OEMed or resold as it did when it
was Sun, it would seem reasonable to assume that Oracle has a cost structure that will enable it to compete
aggressively with traditional storage industry leaders.
As an element in the overall Oracle stack: The FS1 helps to round out the Oracle stack by adding a worldclass, scalable, enterprise-grade SAN storage system. One might complain that it has taken a long time to
arrive, but Oracle has the resources and patience to allow such intricately designed development efforts to
mature. Now Oracle has a SAN storage element that can provide the level of flexibility, scalability, dexterity,
and economics that are all vital in database environments. It is—if you will—another brick in the wall,
allowing it to better defend its customers from “incursions” by other vendors.
In our converging and application-focused world, a more-than-highly-competent storage offering from a converged and
applications-focused vendor such as Oracle has to be met with groans from both the traditional competitors and new
storage start-ups alike. From a competitive standpoint, it would be bad enough if the FS1 were just a “good box,” but it
is actually a very good box, and in addition it has inside-track advantages! The Oracle FS1 is an impressive standalone
product, and an impressive weapon in the overall Oracle arsenal.
© 2014 by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Storage Systems Brief: Oracle FS1 Storage: Takes Flexible Flash to a New Extreme
This ESG brief was commissioned by Oracle and is distributed under license from ESG. All trademark names are property of their respective companies.
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© 2014 by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.