Just this past June I was writing about updates to the ZS3 from Oracle, a platform initially introduced the prior year. Now we have the ZS4-4, Oracle’s new flagship NAS system. The reason I mention the prior blog is because I want to extend some thoughts from it in considering the ZS4 and placing it in context. When looking at the earlier product I focused—although I didn’t actually use the word—on what one might call its personality and (sometimes) hidden abilities. I’ll recap a couple of pertinent points here shortly, but the interesting thing to me about the ZS4 is what it reveals about Oracle’s true soul and intentions. If this all sounds a bit airy-fairy and new age, please bear with me and read on….
- The ZS3 made me reconsider some of my (and probably your) perceptions and understandings of Oracle storage itself; for instance, I discussed its impressive numbers—the significant overall capacity scale, the large amount of solid-state, and the SPC-proven compelling price-performance. In addition, I mentioned Oracle’s increasing efforts at openness, and its credible riding of the powerful IT convergence wave. Few of these were attributes I'd traditionally thought of when thinking "Oracle storage."
- The ZS4, on the other hand, reveals insights into what one might call Oracle’s “soul” (or minimally, and less ethereally, its DNA) because it is essentially all about storage being optimized for use with Oracle's Database. And this is some good stuff—for instance, the container-level storage access, visibility, and analytics for 12c users doesn’t just add speed and flexible efficiency, but also allows much faster identification of any issues (67% fewer steps according to Oracle). And you don’t get this when using other vendors’ storage.
It’s not that the ZS4 doesn’t have great—at times pretty jaw-dropping—raw “regular storage” specifications to shout about. There is better, faster, and bigger everything (for example, up to 3TB of DRAM together with more, new processors that help to grow throughput from the 17GB/sec of the ZS3-4 to over 30GB/sec in this new box) and there’s data at-rest encryption. But, frankly, such things as these—or at least the natural progression of all vendors with these kinds of criteria—are commonplace in the leap-frog world of the "add on" storage industry: Oracle’s ZS4 approach is more of an “add in” storage model. While that may seem to be a small semantic distinction, it represents genuine differentiation for "Big Red," and significant value for its users.
Why? Well, the biggest single point here is to reflect on Oracle's DNA: It is, at heart, a database company, and the ZS4 will excel as—essentially—an integrated extension of the Oracle database. Put another way, it can make 12c more appealing and valuable—indeed probably actually helping to drive the adoption of the pluggable database facility because now there’s a “virtuous circle” of value between the database and the storage.
The “value proposition” of all this to users is pretty straightforward: You can get much more done, both faster and better, and with less resources. In other words, quicker and cheaper “time to insight,” whether that insight be database outputs or identifying storage issues. But, back to my point about reconsiderations versus revelations: Whereas data-sheet-specification leap-frog is very often the name of the game in the storage world, what is just as significant with the ZS4 is how its unique selling point (USP) is competition by elimination rather than competition by comparison. In other words, it is supporting and nurturing Oracle’s software roots, and its advantages are only available to those users who buy into—and therefore buy—its integrated "Application Engineered Systems."
Of course, the ZS4 can compete with the traditional NAS players, where the "big dogs" are NetApp and EMC’s Isilon—and it will no doubt seek to also continue as a viable competitor for those more regular, large, unstructured file-based workloads...but a couple of things are certain:
- The other vendors are not simply going to sit around, but will make continuing efforts to play tough in the Oracle database environment, and will certainly amplify their messaging around the heterogeneity of users' applications and workload needs.
- Nonetheless, the ZS4 will inevitably be able to shine as a data platform for 12c simply because Oracle is—understandably not going to make the "better together sauce" available to other vendor kitchens!
Ah, what an interesting place the IT world is right now...as the neat boxes within which vendors and products have lived for so long are being challenged, reimagined, and even destroyed by business pragmatism and technical possibility.