Two interesting things happened in the computer storage biz on Monday: Sun announced their new "Amber road" storage products and Violin Memory, a small startup, introduced a high performance pizza box storage appliance. Both these products are leveraging NAND flash SSD technology. Both in interesting ways.
BAM, new era...sorry couldn't resist.
It would be easy to go all gaga over these products but caution is advised. Both are innovative in their own right, both challenge the status quo of the data center class storage system business. These are innovative products. No matter what my comments to follow are, keep this in mind: these products are integrating new technologies in new ways and therefore, regardless of the technical prowess of the suppliers, caution should be exercised before inserting these products into a data center on a large scale.
Try'em to verify'em.
In my past blogs about SSDs, I've mentioned that flash SSDs are about transactional performance not capacity. I stated that capacity will have to wait until flash memory density increases and pricing decreases dramatically - we will be waiting for awhile. So, I went on to suggest that a storage system based on SSDs, to be well rounded, must offer high performance but solve any capacity shortfall by including high capacity SATA disks. To make that workable, some magic is needed to move data around appropriately to match the data's dynamics.
That's what the new Sun storage product claims to do.
Sun, by leveraging their open source ZFS file system, with some crucial tweaks, marries SSD technology for performance and SATA hard disk technology for capacity. Compared to an all HDD system, Sun claims up to 3x read transactional performance, 5x less power, at about the same cost.
Turns out Sun uses SSDs tailored both for write performance to handle an internal logging function and then read optimized SSD to act essentially as a really large cache. All wrapped around their open-source ZFS file system hidden within the storage subsystem. Sun is demonstrating technology leadership by tightly integrating SSD technology into a complete storage subsystem - yes others have done a pluggable replacement for a HDD, but that's fairly obvious and less then optimal. And there have also been some demonstrations such as IBM's Quicksilver science experiment based on Fusion-io, but no significant shipping product.
There are certainly other nice features in the Sun "Amber Road" products such as an improved management interface, analytics and such but blah, blah, blah. The industry expects those things, they are the price of entry and are the nuts and bolts of any system. Of course you need good pricing, support, quality and the like - that's all good, but its expected. If a vendor does not live up to the expectation - they get voted off the island - fast.
Sun has a window of opportunity here to make some market share gains, before other major vendors show up to the party. Its on you Sun. Price the product to move, forget premium pricing. Get support right, and accounts will be won. Don't forget: others will arrive at the SSD party soon as well. Grab market share while you can. Show customers how Sun is setting a new price-performance bar only reachable with SSD technology. Game on. Watch your back, I expect strong competition in the SSD space over time, the vendors who don't react are no worry since they will not survive in the long run.
Back to Violin. Violin introduced a 2u (that's about 2 pizza boxes) flash based storage appliance. While this is not an holistic performance and capacity solution, it does offer an excellent example of what happens when you take the "D" out of SSD. No longer constrained by the HDD form factor, the Violin 1010 uses memory card like flash modules that plug into a motherboard. As part of the design, there is a RAID like redundancy for the flash modules with hot plug support in case one fails - but I gotta admit, I wouldn't touch the thing while its running. Find an intern to do it and if things go wrong make the intern the scape goat.
For those running transactional applications, like a database, this product could be a godsend. But I fear the pricing may be too high and you do need to accept working with a newbie in the space. The Violin 1010 attaches directly to PCIe (it also does FC and Ethernet) . PCIe is needed to achieve high iops - fibre channel and scsi in general add too much latency but that's the subject of a future blog.
The Violin product is interesting on its own but consider: Combine the Violin 1010 with a bunch of 1TB SATA hard disks and Sun's open storage software with ZFS. Add in a few tweaks for auto-tiering, do some soul searching about pricing and you could have an awesome product.
So where is all this SSD technology going? Into data centers, sooner than anyone has imagined.