As cloud adoption accelerates, sophisticated use cases are emerging that can more fully exploit the availability of low cost storage for backup, recovery and archiving. A key aspect of this new approach is the ability to intelligently leverage edge processing as an intermediary between the source data and its ultimate target. This method centers on a highly integrated hybrid cloud approach, with significant technology on the front-end and end-to-end protocols designed to ensure data integrity and recoverability.

Oracle’s VSM7 is an example of this new model which goes beyond simple (traditional) file and object store/retrieve methods and uses edge processing to optimize the placement and retrieval of secure data in the cloud. The business impact of this technology is it allows moving and storing mainframe data offsite for at least one tenth the cost per terabyte relative to existing approaches.

Need to Know

On March 1st, 2016, Oracle announced an intelligent interface for the VSM7 with the explicit intent of enabling a cloud tier for IBM mainframes. Previously, IBM mainframe practitioners had two choices for off-site backup and archive:

  1. Add another virtual tape system and replicate offsite or;
  2. Cut physical tapes and send to an Iron Mountain type facility.

Virtual tape systems are well-established, stable and understood as a low cost and effective mechanism for data protection and long-term storage/archiving. The mainframe, however, has somewhat unique requirements. There are five key impacts we believe practitioners should consider when assessing this announcement, including:

  • The cloud has long promised to be a low cost target for cold storage. To date, however, the simplicity of most cloud interfaces from the mainframe has limited the effectiveness of this emerging platform as a low cost solution and limited options to a “roll-your-own” approach;
  • The need for at-rest encryption.
  • The need for very robust data integrity.
  • The need to often meet stringent recovery point objective (RPO) SLAs, as well as aggressive RTO (Recovery Time Objective) SLAs.
  • The cloud component must include fast ways of ingesting and recovering the mainframe data.

These requirements are examined as follows:

–  Potential Savings with Cloud Storage

Low-cost cloud storage has been a key value for early cloud entrants such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft’s Azure. Amazon’s S3 storage service prices as of March 2016 are:

  • $0.0357/GB for standard storage
  • $0.0200 /GB for infrequent access storage
  • $0.0285/GB for reduced redundancy storage.

Oracle has introduced infrequent access storage at a cost of $0.001/GB, with a higher access time to first byte.

All these costs are orders of magnitude lower than traditional mainframe capacity storage costs, which are about $0.9/GB.

–  Encryption

Oracle claims that use of the M7 chip with built-in wide-key encryption capabilities will allow encryption to be achieved without significant processing overhead on the controller, with 15 separate keys. They also point out that the use of Silicon Secured Memory improves the security of the controller operating system, and the in-memory compression is assisted by additional silicon.

–  Data Integrity

The data integrity checks and recovery mechanisms are especially important for encrypted data, where partial data recovery is impossible. Oracle has included “triple” parity and end-to-end block-level integrity and recovery mechanisms in the VSM7 solution.

–  Aggressive RPO

Applications on mainframes often need to meet very stringent recovery point objective (RPO) SLAs. This translates in the mainframe world to high-speed parallel data transfer into multiple appliances using FICON to ensure data is secured off-site very quickly. The VSM7 is a strong performer in these configurations.

–  Ingesting & Recovering Cloud Mainframe Data

The hybrid cloud solutions will need to include fast ways of ingesting and recovering the mainframe data:

  • The use of physical media to ingest data, such as tapes or a physical machine such as a VSM7 which can be shipped to the cloud.
  • The choice of recovery either:
    • Restoring the data to an enterprise IT site, either from shipping the active cloud-installed VSM7 to the IT premise, or with a standby VSM7 which is loaded from the cloud storage and then shipped to the enterprise premise
    • In the cloud, with an active physical machine such as the VSM7, or with a standby VSM7 restored from the cloud storage. The cloud would also have standby z processors.
    • The use of tapes or to transfer the data.

Oracle has yet to spell out how these services would be provided as part of the Oracle Storage Cloud. Mainframe executives should ensure that Oracle can document a sound plan that meets RPO and RTO objectives, that can be tested at least annually, and can be shown to meet compliance requirements.

The Importance of Edge Systems in Hybrid Cloud Architectures

Wikibon has covered in depth the importance of edge devices for cloud computing, e.g. “The Vital Role of Edge Computing in the Internet of Things“. Other examples of hybrid approaches are:

  • Avere’s cloud enabled NAS solutions:
    • Avere offers a powerful all-flash front-end with a flexible global file system that allows low-cost eventually consistent object storage from low-cost AWS S3 cloud and other cloud storage vendors;
    • The combination of NAS edge and cloud give much better performance than cloud alone, with the business benefits of end-user productivity, and at a much lower overall cost than traditional filers from (e.g from NetApp, EMC and others).
  • Nasuni has a similar front-end high-performant filer, with its own low-cost cloud file storage in the background.
  • EMC’s EMC CloudArray (previously Twin Strata). CloudArray’s virtual, physical, and cloud compute-based hybrid cloud storage connects existing NAS systems and software to over 20 public and private cloud providers using standard iSCSI, NFS, and CIFS storage interfaces.

These examples, and the Oracle example of the VSM7 illustrate that the combination of edge system as offload and high performance together with low-cost cloud data services offer the best of all worlds – performance, better availability and lower-cost.


Other Mainframe players – EMC, Hitachi and IBM all have virtual tape systems, which offer specific features. EMC offers tapeless virtual tape. IBM, like oracle, offers tape libraries as well as virtual tape systems; and Hitachi offers virtual tape systems. Apart from Oracle, none offer the same low cost or integration with cloud storage.

The hybrid approach taken by Oracle with the VSM7 is a sound and currently unique approach to unlock the potential of low-cost mainframe storage in the cloud.

Action Item:

Executives with mainframe responsibility should include the ability to use the cloud for low-cost storage in mainframe storage RFPs, and should include the Oracle VSM7 as a hybrid  cloud solution in such RFPs. Particular emphasis should be given to ensure an ability to ingest and recover large amounts of mainframe data securely and rapidly, and the ability to test recovery procedures and ensure compliance within any cloud solution.