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Oracle Places Its Storage Strategy Bets

Key Oracle executives--President Mark Hurd, Executive VP of Systems John Fowler and Senior VP of Storage Phil Bullinger--unveiled the company’s storage strategy a day after the official announcement of Oracle’s acquisition of Pillar Data Systems. Although that deal is noteworthy, it should not distract from Oracle leveraging its traditional product strengths to strengthen its overall storage position.

Note that while Oracle is best known for a database heritage (much like major competitors HP and IBM are known for their server heritage and EMC is known for its storage heritage), it has expanded to be an information infrastructure company, in part through its acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Although no major IT vendor does or needs to do everything in the information infrastructure arena, storage is an area that each wants to be strong in.

Oracle has decided to strengthen its focus on storage through four "pillars" (no pun intended) of its solution portfolio:

  • Exadata Database Machine: This is a database solution that focuses on online transaction processing, data warehousing and database consolidation
    workloads. One might ask why this is included in the storage portfolio. The answer is that this product incorporates integrated storage as Oracle has
    re-engineered databases and storage to improve database I/O; this is, in effect, a not-so-secret storage weapon. If Oracle can get a customer to buy an Oracle
    Exadata Database Machine, then a significant amount of storage goes along as a bundled ride.
  • ZFS Storage Appliance: This is an enterprise network-attached storage (NAS) entry that has been engineered for Oracle environments. There are direct connections between it and the company’s database solutions, which helps the company pursue what might be called an "everything goes better with Oracle"-type of strategy.
  • StorageTek Tape: Oracle has not abandoned tape for data protection and archiving. In fact, StorageTek (acquired by Sun in 2005) offers the market’s
    biggest tape library solution. Now, tape libraries are a horizontal market sale rather than a very targeted sale, such as in a database environment, but
    there is no need for Oracle to have everything tightly coupled with its traditional products. However, as much as vendors might like the notion of selling large
    enterprises everything they need, few of those customers fulfill all their IT needs with one vendor.
  • Pillar Data Systems’ Axiom: This latest acquisition gets Oracle back into the block storage area network (SAN) I/O storage business. Note that Pillar was majority-owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who has been an investor in Pillar since its birth about 10 years ago. That close relationship means that Pillar is likely to be accepted neatly into Oracle’s overall storage portfolio. Although Axiom is a horizontal rather than a vertical market product, Oracle may still be able to find some ways to exploit its architecture within its traditional environments.

    Frankly, and even the company is likely to agree privately, the Oracle storage portfolio has nowhere the breadth and depth of any of its major competitors' (systems from EMC, HP and IBM), and any best-of-breed product claims could be successfully contested by those three competitors, as well as by Dell, NetApp and others. However, dismissing Oracle’s storage portfolio out of hand would be a mistake.

    To understand why, we need to understand how the company is playing its cards. Even though we have to be careful not to extend the analogy too far, consider that in some games, players can get one or more cards (sometimes for purchase) to improve their chances. In this parlance, Pillar Data Systems qualifies as another Oracle card.

    The question is, how strong a card is it? For whatever reason, Pillar has not had the success of some of its competitors, including Dell (with Compellent), EMC, HP (with 3PAR) and IBM. However, cut Oracle a little slack, as it just acquired the company. Oracle may have some ideas about how the Axiom architecture can play well with its traditional products, but it needs time to explore, develop, and announce what those would be.

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