While EMC’s new XtremSF (server flash) family of PCIe-based cards is not expected to have a significant impact on revenue before 2014 at the earliest, it is a game changer because it makes the storage (and virtualization/VMware and security/RSA) giant the only vendor to offer a complete portfolio of flash storage options. The company sees flash as a transformative type of technology that changes the way customers can look at their applications and business, said Barry Ader, Senior Director of Product Management, EMC. It’s a foundational kind of technology that can be used in a variety of ways, with a choice of technologies to match use cases, he said.
At EMC’s earnings conference call at the end of January, President and COO David Goulden said that over half of the VMAX and VNX storage arrays ship with some amount of flash. “All flash products will be ramping this year and, in terms of being able to move the needle against a $23.5 billion revenue line, that will be more something for 2014.”
However flash will play a major role, most likely in tandem with disk. “And the ability to work with somebody to get the right flash solution, best-of-breed, for all the different workloads, we think that’s a really important criteria.”
What stands out about the new announcements is not actually the specifications and products per se – “leadership in such areas is often a transient things and I don’t think users really buy that,” said Mark Peters, Senior Analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group. “What is important – both to the ‘news’ and to buyers – is the strategy that is revealed/continued by this announcement.”
EMC has said for a number of years now it sees flash as necessary and viable in many different places, and its ‘portfolio’ approach makes sense if nothing else because of the breadth of capabilities, price and performance that are represented by varying types and implementations of flash storage. “That said, IMHO the ‘flash game’ is ultimately going to be won and lost on the ‘software-battle-field’ – meaning that the two most noteworthy elements in this announcement are the XtremIO Software Suite (EMC demonstrating its focus) and – -something that might get overlooked in all the specsmanship hullabaloo – the fact that the new XtremIO ‘box’ is actually all about software platform (note even requiring proprietary hardware).”
Analyst Ben Woo, Managing Director, Neuralytix, highlighted the need for an end-to-end approach last summer in his report on the SSD (solid-state drive) market. “Flash is not a point solution. PERIOD. Flash is an element along the whole data flow. This means that just integrating flash doesn’t do much for any enterprise.. Integrating flash in the context of an overall storage strategy and storage infrastructure will allow enterprises to benefit the most.”
Flash requires software, said Woo. “Software that is intelligent in terms of not only what to cache but WHY it is caching it. For the last 30 years in storage, it has been clearly noted that caching cache is a bad thing. It is counterproductive. So, if there is cache on the storage system, or if there is already solid state deployed in the storage system, adding flash may not be the right thing to do. That’s why EMC’s approach of providing a coherent integration of flash at multiple points along the data path is the best approach to improving performance, reducing cost, and optimizing utilization.”
Available in MLC (550 GB and 2.2 TB) and SLC (350 GB and 700 GB) capacities, XtremSF is server flash hardware, that can be deployed as either direct attached storage (DAS) that sits within the server or it can be deployed in combination with XtremSW Cache server caching software. The 550 GB and 2.2 TB eMLC capacities are currently shipping, while the 700 GB and 1.4 TB capacities are expected out later this year.
Initially announced in May 2011, EMC’s original PCIe-based flash server cache technology was code-named Project Lightning, and was finally shipped in February 2012. EMC claims the new cards accelerate performance up to 1.13 million IOPs, and deliver 2X higher throughput, reduce CPU utilization by up to 50%, and provide 58% better total cost of ownership than competitive offerings. In addition to the XtremSF, the company announced limited availability of an all-flash array (XtremIO), a new software flash strategy, and the upcoming XtremSW Suite to manage flash across the data center. Due out later this year, the suite will provide customers with pooling, cache coherency, deeper EMC storage array integration and specific enhancements for VMware environments.
The company acquired XtremIO, an Israeli-based all-flash scale-out, enterprise storage vendor last May and reportedly started showing off an early version, code-named Project X, in August. The array has been shipping to a select set of customers and will be generally available later this year, said Ader.