Ellison-backed Pillar targets storage utilization rates

Axiom 600 storage expands support for VMware, Oracle, Exchange

Larry Ellison-backed Pillar Data Systems upgrades storage system for VMware, Oracle and Exchange environments.

The Larry Ellison-backed storage vendor Pillar Data Systems is releasing the next generation of its Axiom system designed to provide high disk utilization rates and optimal performance for VMware, Oracle database and Microsoft Exchange applications.

The Axiom 600 for both storage-area network and network-attached storage systems, announced on Tuesday, nearly doubles the number of applications a customer can throw at any given storage controller, says CEO Michael Workman, who co-founded Pillar with Oracle CEO Ellison in 2001. (Compare storage products.)  

Workman and Ellison set out to build storage that is "application-aware," which knows and can respond to the unique requirements of specific applications. Some applications have to be optimized for speed, and others for capacity, Workman says. Axiom can dynamically reassign resources based on changing priorities.

The other major goal of Pillar is to drive up disk utilization rates. Enterprises commonly buy more storage than is necessary in order to boost speed as measured in Input/Output operations Per Second (IOPS), and end up using only a fraction of their disk space.

Pillar boosts utilization rates by providing up to eight RAID controllers for each storage pool, according to Workman.

With storage systems from EMC, HP, IBM, Hitachi and others, you get two controllers per box, says analyst Arun Taneja of the Taneja Group. The advantage with Pillar is the "ability to add controllers when I need it, and the ability to add capacity when I need it," he says.

A typical Pillar customer uses 60% of its disk space, many run above 80%, and a few brave IT shops use every last bit of storage they have, according to Workman.

"We have customers at 100% utilization today. Frankly, they’re driving me nuts," he says. "You don’t want to run any storage system from anybody near 100% because as soon as the system is full, it's really full. That's not a good position to be in, when you go to write bytes, and the system comes back and says 'I’m sorry.'"

Axiom 600 and Axiom 600MC (Mission Critical), the successors to the Axiom 500 product line, are a mixture of hardware and software and are available immediately. A typical configuration for a low-end customer would cost about $80,000, compared with $67,000 for the 500 series, Workman says.

Pillar has more than 350 customers in 16 countries, ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies that have spent as much as a couple million dollars on Axiom systems, he says.

Axiom 600 expands on the application-aware theme with enhanced support for applications including VMware, Oracle, virtual tape libraries, Microsoft Exchange and SQL database. For example, Axiom supports technology in Oracle's Automatic Storage Management platform that divides data into 1MB chunks and stores them efficiently to prevent missed revolutions in a disk drive. In other words, only one read or write operation is required for any one piece of data, Workman says.

VMware, Exchange and Oracle are the applications most commonly used on the Pillar system, Workman says. But customers use dozens of others, and upgrades in Axiom 600 let them nearly double the number targeted at any given controller, he says. If you had four applications running on an Axiom 500 disk controller (or "slammer," as Pillar calls them), you might have been forced to buy another controller in order to add an application. With the 600, you can add a few extra applications without needing another slammer.

Workman says he wants customers to break the habit of dedicating storage to a single application, a strategy necessitated by storage products that don't know the capacity and I/O needs of individual applications.

"The Axiom 600 is a culmination of a lot of the things [Larry Ellison and I] set out to do seven years ago," he says. "The concept was to build storage that knew about applications that used the storage [and use that knowledge to shape how storage is pooled and shared]. Through that we felt we could build much more efficient systems."

Taneja likes this approach. With most storage environments, IT pros are forced to create specific types of LUNs, pick RAID levels and do other manual tasks which are made unnecessary by Axiom, he says.

"What Pillar has done is basically take all those manual process requirements away from the IT guy," Taneja says. "That’s what systems should do, they should take all the dirty stuff away from us."

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