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Oracle and LSI claim BLOB performance breakthrough

Oracle Database 11g's SecureFiles running on LSI's Engenio 7900 storage system can compete with file system performance while storing unstructured data objects in a database for better metadata management, the vendors claim.

Oracle Corp. and partner LSI Corp. said they've modeled a new reference architecture for managing unstructured data with the Oracle database rather than a file system. The companies say internal benchmarks show LSI's Engenio 7900 system boosted the performance of the SecureFiles feature for Oracle Database 11g in line with file systems.

Oracle and LSI said the newly updated 7900 disk array was clocked at up to 4.5 GBps performance in internal testing when attached to a seven-node Oracle RAC cluster running SecureFiles. A single-node configuration was measured at 700 MBps attached to 243 Fibre Channel (FC) 15K rpm drives.

Oracle launched SecureFiles with the release of the 11g database in 2007. It offers a management framework within Oracle databases for storing metadata on unstructured data objects such as images. Databases have been able to store binary large objects, or BLOBs, for more than a decade, but SecureFiles provides faster access to unstructured data stored in Oracle LOB columns than previous versions of the database.

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Oracle and LSI argue that SecureFiles is better than a file system for managing data in an environment that already uses the Oracle database to manage business processes because it keeps data management consistent between file-based and block-based applications. "The target market is anyplace where a database query might return a file, such as in electronic medical records and images, or fingerprints in a law-enforcement database," said Mark Henderson, solution marketing manager for LSI's Engenio systems group.

"If you write a large object to a file system and then write the metadata to a separate database, if you don't complete the operation correctly, you run the risk of having an orphan object," said Tim Shetler, vice president of product management at Oracle.

However, while administrators could more quickly access LOBs within the database application, delivering the files through the database from the storage side of the equation was a bottleneck.

"Since we released SecureFiles we've done a lot of benchmarks to satisfy the growing customer demand to store larger files," said Amit Ganesh, senior director of development at Oracle. "Prior to [the testing with LSI], we've published benchmarks on much smaller hardware, in the range of a couple hundred megabytes per second. This [configuration with LSI] removes that barrier."

Henderson said the Engenio 7900 has adaptive caching algorithms that are better able to switch between serving block-level database data and larger contiguous files. The 7900 added support for 8 Gbps Fibre Channel connections last week, but Henderson said the test was done using 4 Gbps FC.

"Metadata wrapped around a BLOB makes that BLOB more valuable, searchable and useful," said Brian Garrett, technical director at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) Lab in Milford, Mass. "If it can keep up with performance and capacity demands, storing metadata in a database that you own and trust saves time and money."

However, keeping up with performance and capacity demands has traditionally been the Achilles' heel of systems like this. "The technical challenges are where and how to store BLOBs, and the metadata that describes those BLOBs, in a way that's predictably fast, reliable and affordable," Garrett said.

Still, internally generated benchmarks only go so far in proving value to the market. While this will be a reference architecture for deploying SecureFiles going forward, the companies didn't supply a reference user of the architecture.

"LSI makes excellent products and SecureFiles provides an alternative to NAS [network-attached storage] and file folder management," said Terri McClure, an ESG analyst. "But I'm not a fan of benchmarks because users rarely see the performance vendors tout. Performance is based on so many things, [like] file sizes, workload, I/O profile. I'm sure the LSI/Oracle combination can support lots of users sufficiently – but it really depends on the user's environment."

Oracle's database is also now supported on the Zettabyte File System (ZFS) owned by Sun Microsystems Inc., which Oracle is in the process of acquiring. However, Oracle officials said that while SecureFiles is an alternative to application-level file systems for managing data, back-end file systems like ZFS could still be used in the storage layer of the infrastructure. Sun also OEMs the Engenio 7900 disk array as part of its traditional storage business (as opposed to its open-source Amber Road storage products).

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