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Oracle buying Ellison-backed Pillar Data

Fills SAN hole in storage line-up

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Oracle is buying CEO Larry Ellison's privately-funded Pillar Data Systems storage company.

Pillar was founded in 2001 by Mike Workman, its CEO, and funded by Ellison's own investment vehicle, Tako Ventures. It has devised, built and is selling its Axiom storage arrays, ones using a 3-box design, with storage Bricks, up to 8 controlling Slammers and a managing Pilot.

The system offers different levels of storage service, with an innovative concept of using fast access tracks of disk drives for the most active data and the other, slower-to-access tracks for less active data. This has evolved into application profiles.

Multiple levels of storage service and workloads can be provided by a single Axiom from its SSD, Fibre Channel and SATA disk drive tiers.

Pillar has nearly 600 customers with 1,500 Axiom arrays in some 24 countries, and is headquartered in San Jose, not too far from Oracle's Redwood Shores HQ.

Oracle's storage line is effectively divided between externally-attached ZFS-using arrays, directly-attached flash and drive storage for its Exalogic and Exadata (database) server systems, and the StreamLine tape libraries. The company says Pillar will complement this with its block-access SAN arrays.

In effect Pillar is being bought by Oracle to replace the LSI and HDS arrays which Oracle previously OEM'd though its Sun acquisition. Pillar will now have its systems sold through the Oracle channel, and we can expect the absorption of Pillar's channel into the Oracle one.

Oracle says that, with Pillar, it can:

Deliver to customers a complete line of storage products that runs Oracle software faster and more efficiently than traditional storage products. Customers can optimise the value of their Oracle applications, database, middleware and operating system software by running on Oracle's storage solutions.

Oracle says that "Pillar storage products are extremely efficient with 80 per cent utilisation at performance, approximately twice the industry average." The Axiom offers Oracle Database columnar compression, has a drive rebuild time up to 60 per cent faster than an EMC CLARiiON (VNX), and along with its application profiles, larger number of controllers and better quality of service is "better than EMC for SAN block I/O."

PIllar's Axiom has a NAS head feature and that might migrate to a ZFS technology.

An Oracle letter to Oracle (and Pillar) partners states: "The proposed transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close in July 2011. Until the transaction closes, each company will continue to operate independently, and it is business as usual."

Pillar is majority-owned by Ellison. The Oracle SEC 8K filing says: "As of June 29, 2011, Pillar Data owed Mr. Ellison and his affiliates a total principal loan amount plus interest of approximately $544 million for amounts borrowed by Pillar Data."

Oracle says that:

The evaluation and negotiation of the transaction was led by an independent committee of Oracle’s Board of Directors. The transaction is structured as a 100 per cent earn-out with no up-front payment. Oracle does not expect that the amount of the earn-out or its potential impact will be material to Oracle’s results of operations or financial position.

The 8K filing says: "The Earn-Out will be calculated based on a 3x multiple of certain future revenues of Pillar Data which will be reduced for certain future costs and other losses of Pillar Data" and "there is no duty for Oracle or the Independence Committee to ensure the Earn-Out will result in a payment to any Pillar Data stockholders and option holders, including Mr. Ellison."

An earn-out means there is no upfront fee to be paid. It could be that Ellison and other Pillar investors will make a loss on their Pillar stock. There could also be a recognition here than an IPO was simply not feasible for Pillar.

With this acquisition Pillar joins 3PAR and Compellent as the third innovative SAN storage company acquired by mainstream storage vendors and brings to a close the recent era of major spinning disk drive array innovation. Now the innovation focus is shifting to all-flash storage for the hottest data and cloud storage for bulk data. ®

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