Briefing Note: Violin Memory ushers in the Flash Storage Platform

Even though memory has always played a role in the storage infrastructure, the introduction of flash based storage has lead to rapid advancements in the evolution of storage. Today flash use has evolved from simply augmenting disk-based primary storage (hybrid systems), to replacing hard disk drives altogether in All-Flash systems. The problem is this advancement came by sacrificing performance to achieve a more reasonable price point. This has resulted in the development of flash storage systems for specific workloads, like databases, as well as desktop and server virtualization. A Flash Storage Platform promises to bring storage performance back into play while maintaining pricing gains.

A Flash Storage Platform is a purpose-built storage system designed specifically for flash memory modules. Most companies use off-the-shelf storage servers and retrofit them with drive form-factor solid state disks. Companies like Violin and IBM (Texas Memory) use purpose built hardware to extract maximum flash performance and maximum storage system density.

But a Flash Storage Platform is NOT a flash appliance. Flash appliances are also purpose built flash hardware devices, but they lack the enterprise data services and availability options that data centers require to even attempt to make all primary storage flash-based. While these data services features can be added to a flash appliance, a Flash Storage Platform has them integrated in for better performance and user experience.

Introducing The Violin 7300

The Violin 7300 is a Flash Storage Platform that integrates data services onto purpose built hardware that’s designed specifically to extract maximum performance out of their flash array. These services include: data deduplication, thin provisioning, snapshots, thin and thick clones, asynchronous replication, consistency groups, continuous data protection as well as WAN optimization and encryption. Although updated, this is the same hardware foundation that led to the impressive 2 million IOPS performance test that we did with Violin. See the ChalkTalk video here “2 Million IOPS – It Takes A Flash Village”.

These data services are provided from an update to Violin’s ConcertoOS, which is now at version 7. Violin’s Symphony software provides a single pane of glass to manage, monitor and configure the 7300.

Violin’s 7300 Flash Storage Platform comes in various configurations that feature the same software stack in raw capacity sizes ranging from 11TB to 70TB, which should produce effective capacities of ~55TB to ~217TB, assuming l typical deduplication and compression efficiency. Also, the 7300 is available in Violin’s revolutionary pay-as-you-grow pricing that we describe in our briefing note “Who needs Cloud Storage – Violin delivers pay as you grow Flash”.

7700 The Scale Right Flash Storage Platform

When a data center needs the ability to go beyond the capacities and performance of a single 7300, Violin has an offering that many flash vendors do not. The 7700 allows multiple 7300s to be combined and seen as a single system. In this case the Concerto storage software runs on two external storage controllers and the 7300s are connected to those controllers. The externalization of the data services not only allows for the aggregation of capacity and performance of multiple 7300s as well as previous generation 7100/7200 systems. It also provides dedicated storage controller power to meet the processing requirements that the storage software will need to provide services to a configuration of this size.

The 7700 adds stretch metro clusters, synchronous replication, and the clustering of six 7300s. The key benefit is the ability to add this when the data center is ready for it. An organization can start with a single 7300 and then cluster them together as their needs demand it.

StorageSwiss Take

Many flash arrays will meet the performance requirements of most data centers today. But performance, or the demand for more of it, will not stand still. Flash systems have proven to be reliable, more so than hard disks, and more power efficient. They should also last 2-3 times longer than the traditional hard disk array. The challenge will be for flash arrays to keep up with performance as the data center becomes more densely populated with virtual machines and high user-count databases. Some systems may run out of performance long before they experience a capacity or durability problem.

The above situation is the exact opposite of what was expected from flash arrays when they first appeared on the market. The expectation was they would offer more than enough performance, but would wear out or run out of capacity. With the Flash Storage Platform Violin seems to have addressed all these concerns at once. They have a high performance infrastructure that can scale to meet most capacity demands yet still provide all the data services that data centers expect from their primary storage system.

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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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