As Published In
Oracle Magazine
May/June 2010

AT ORACLE: Interview

Oracle and Sun, Engineering from Applications to Disk

By Caroline Kvitka

Combined companies will deliver complete solutions with best-of-breed components.

John Fowler, executive vice president of systems at Oracle and former executive vice president, network systems, at Sun, sat down with Oracle Magazine Senior Managing Editor Caroline Kvitka to talk about Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, what it means for customers, and merging technologies. The following is an excerpt from that interview. Download a podcast of the full interview at .

Oracle Magazine: What are some of the customer benefits of Oracle’s acquisition of Sun?

Fowler: It’s very exciting because we’re bringing together two of the world’s leading technology companies. Oracle has built leadership technology through the entire database, middleware, and application set, and together with Sun, which invented Java as well as building many of the other underlying technologies for storage and servers, we now can put together complete solutions for customers with best-of-breed standalone components, as well as making these components work together better and be serviced as one whole entire infrastructure. This has been tremendously exciting for customers all through the integration planning.

Oracle Magazine: We’re hearing the phrase engineering from applications to disk . What does that mean?

Fowler: I think it really means two things. One of them is that the combined companies are now engineering all the standalone components from the very concept of “where do you start with storage?” all the way through the applications that deliver business value. But the other side of this is, how do we actually engineer these to work together? Now in the combined companies we’re able to take the world’s leading enterprise software portfolio and engineer it and test it together with the operating system and hardware technologies in order to ensure that we have the best-possible performance, the highest reliability, and the highest energy efficiency.

Oracle Magazine: Can you give me an example of one thing that Oracle and Sun are doing around this concept of engineering from applications to disk?

Fowler: One of the things that Sun and Oracle worked on together over the past decade was evolving Solaris [now Oracle Solaris] to be a great operating system to run Oracle Database. Today, as the combined companies, we’ve integrated database performance and regression testing. We’re testing all our servers and storage together with the operating system so you know when you get these products from us that they’ve been tested to work together and will be serviced at an extremely high level. That’s something we’re doing today. It started literally the day after the acquisition closed.

Oracle Magazine: What is Oracle’s high-level plan for hardware?

Fowler: Oracle’s technical strategy is to be complete, open, and integrated. We bring the basic philosophy to the hardware product portfolio: how do we actually take each of the components, make sure they’re best-of-breed—whether they’re servers or storage—and build around open interfaces, but also make them work together better? As an example, we are evolving our storage and server portfolio through increased investment to run the complete Oracle stack in a superior way in terms of performance and service, as well as ensuring that all these products can be used with other application software. Oracle will be investing more than Sun did in SPARC servers and [Oracle] Solaris, so that we’ll have complete mission-critical servers and operating system technologies. Oracle is also investing heavily in storage because of all the changes coming in storage technology both in devices and performance for enterprise customers.

Some of the things that we’re doing around integration include bringing together Oracle Enterprise Manager, the enterprise management tools, with Sun’s systems management tools so that you can manage a complete application as well as the hardware and operating system stack in one cohesive way and see all your service and all your technology patches and updates through My Oracle Support. These are all examples of things that we’re doing around both individual components as well as making them work together.

Oracle Magazine: Speaking of storage technology, you’ve said that Flash is going to turn the storage industry upside down. Why is Flash so important?

Fowler: Since the beginning, storage was always on mechanical devices—spinning disk drives with motors and servers—and therefore very slow. Flash actually moves storage to solid state so that storage can be 10 or 20 times faster than it ever was before. Very rarely in the world of hardware do you get a situation where in one generation you move to something that’s 10 to 20 times faster.

One of the interesting things about the Sun acquisition is that both Oracle and Sun were independently investing heavily in software to take advantage of this revolution, and so we have both Flash hardware technologies and software technologies in the database as well as in the operating system to take advantage of this 10- to 20-times performance. You certainly see that as an example in the Oracle/Sun partnership around the Sun Oracle Database Machine, where our Flash technology was engineered together in an architecture that combines database and storage for truly breathtaking increases in performance and manageability. I think this is going to be one of the most exciting areas in technology happening today. It will completely reset what people can do around all their applications and not just the database.

Oracle Magazine: How does Flash work in hybrid storage pools?

Fowler: At Sun we coined the term hybrid storage pools , and the basic idea is that Flash is much, much faster than disk, but it’s a bit more expensive in terms of how much it costs you to store a given amount of data. So we developed software to automatically manage a pool of Flash together with regular disk drives, so that you can effectively have your cake and eat it too. You can have large amounts of cheap storage, but all the things that you frequently access are automatically on Flash for extraordinary performance. This is how we’re able to deliver unbelievable performance, energy efficiency, and low cost in our ZFS Storage Appliance. We’re using slow and energy-efficient bulk disk drives together with very large amounts of Flash, and that gives us a unique value proposition for both performance and cost.

Oracle Magazine: What’s unique about the ZFS Storage Appliance, and what’s important about the role of Flash in the device?

Fowler: One of the things we’ve done in the ZFS Storage Appliance is integrate Flash as a core part of the technology. Because of the way we’ve engineered the software, unlike today’s conventional storage devices, we can essentially have arbitrarily sized pools of Flash for both read and write performance coupled with inexpensive disks. That gives us breathtaking performance 3 to 10 times the performance of existing encumbrance in the storage world at a fraction of the energy consumption.

ZFS was designed from the beginning to incorporate not just Flash but very large memory arrays. With ZFS we’re able to mix and match whatever cost point of storage without requiring the customer to manage it, and that’s the unique thing about it. We actually manage the underlying infrastructure of DRAM and Flash automatically for the customer to deliver the best-possible performance. That’s part of how it’s a breakthrough.

Oracle Magazine: What key technologies and engineering methods are part of the Sun Oracle Database Machine? 

Next Steps

 READ more about Oracle and Sun

 WATCH Oracle + Sun Product Strategy Webcast Series

Fowler: The Sun Oracle Database Machine includes the database and storage server software. We have incorporated Flash hardware technologies plus our ultradense storage servers, which allow us to mix Flash and regular storage. Another key breakthrough is that we incorporated Sun’s design on the InfiniBand switch, which is a very high-performance network that runs 8 to 10 times faster than conventional storage networks today to allow for extraordinary levels of performance between the database and storage nodes. All those together add up to the incredible performance that you see in the Sun Oracle Database Machine.

Because we’ve integrated the software and hardware, we now offer an integrated management umbrella. Customers that buy the Sun Oracle Database Machine literally can roll it in. They can plug into power and Ethernet and then turn it over to their database administrator, so that he or she can administer it without actually requiring conventional storage and systems administration, which is a huge labor savings when it comes to deploying all transaction processing [TP]. You’ll see everything there: Flash technologies, how we’ve designed physical servers, very high-performance networking, integrated software, and integrated management that just gives a completely different approach to all TP.

Oracle Magazine: What are you most looking forward to now that Oracle and Sun are operating as one?

Fowler: I’m an engineering leader at heart, so I am the most excited about my thousands of engineers getting together with the thousands of engineers at Oracle and seeing what kinds of things we can produce. Through the integration plan, we were able to do quite a bit of planning and working together, but it’s still not the same as working together as combined companies where we can really go after intellectual property and new ideas and making things work together. The engineers are champing at the bit, and I can’t wait to see what we’re going to produce over the next one, two, and three years when we combine these engineering teams.


Caroline Kvitka
Caroline Kvitka is senior managing editor of Oracle Magazine and Profit.

Send us your comments