Demo Day At The Flash Memory Summit

We wrapped up the Flash Memory Summit today with another round of briefings and we participated in a panel studying the state of the SSD market. Today was a little different than other days as we went down to the floor and watched various vendor’s in-booth demos and presentations and here is a listing of what we thought were the best.

First up was Marvell. If you are in the data center you may never buy a product directly from Marvell because they typically supply the vendors that build the products that you would buy. In other words Marvell exists to make flash better. They were showing several products in their booth. First there was something called the Microserver. A server that was about as tall and wide as a drive, although deeper, with 4TB’s of mSATA flash for storage. The use of mSATA is an interesting option, and one that we think we will start to see more often.

Next up in the booth is something that the data center can buy from them was Marvell’s DragonFly acceleration cards which we wrote about last year. These cards are available in a DRAM only option or can be coupled with SSD inside the server. The DragonFly accelerated both write and reads. Writes are cached into safe NVDIMM and reads, with the SSDs, are cached to flash memory.

The DragonFly not only promises to accelerate performance it also may extend the life of the SSD drives it supports. Thanks to its write caching capability, writes can be written to the SSD in a more intelligent pattern which should reduce wear. They also better enable the use of MLC flash in the enterprise. MLC provides excellent read performance but slower write performance. The DragonFly removes the write latency thanks to its NVDIMM write cache.

OCZ was our next demo. We sat in their booth for a live demonstration of their new VXL Storage Accelerator Software which promises to deliver a high performance, flash based VMware storage infrastructure with complete high availability and without a SAN. Essentially OCZ PCIe SSD cards are installed in the VMware hosts. Those hosts are then networked via an iSCSI 10GbE connection and each VM is mirrored synchronously to another VM on another host in the VMware cluster. On a failure, the standby VM on the standby host automatically switches from a read only mode to an active mode and the application continues without much more than a brief pause.

The demo worked flawlessly. The VXL Storage Accelerator Software Solution is an impressive option for data center looking for high performance flash based VMware solutions without the expense of a SAN.

Our final demo and last briefing of the show was with WhipTail, providers of an all-flash storage system. At their booth they showed a VMware cluster running several MS-SQL VMs and a Virtual Desktop environment. The goal was to show how well the INVICTA could support a mixed workload environment. With two SQL VMs pegged at ~60,000 IOPS, they then started a simultaneous boot of 600 virtual desktops. While the SQL servers maintained their performance, the 600 desktops booted in less than two minutes.

The INVICTA supports up to six 2U all-flash storage nodes and when fully configured delivers 600k IOPS. What I like about WhipTail is they translate this IOPS performance in business terms that make sense to data center managers. For example the six node system could support ~12,000 virtual desktops. Even with a single INVICTA unit it’s possible to support a database transaction load driving hundreds of millions, if not billions or more, transactions in a single day.

This conversation tied in nicely for our talk on market conditions. In it we suggested that the industry start communicating with the data center in terms of what they can do for you not in how many IOPS they can deliver.

The doors have closed at the 2012 Flash Memory Summit. This years event was the biggest ever for obvious reasons. Flash is everywhere and the show organizers are doing an excellent job with the event. Vendors that have a choice of hard drives or SSD are reporting that 50% of the storage systems they are delivering to customers have some form of flash.

The key for the enterprise adoption, other than continued price declines, is to make the technology easier to either integrate into or replace current hard drive based storage systems in the data center.

Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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