Robbery With Violins: Flash Now Cheaper Than (High-End) Disk

Much like disk vendors who have been predicting the demise of tape for the last 50 years, flash vendors have been equally shrill about killing off hard disks, with comparable results. While I won’t hold my breath for either obituary, Violin Memory says its 6264 flash Memory Array, at less than $5 per gigabyte, is cheaper than high-performance disk. Available in the same 3U form factor of its predecessor, the 6232, it provides twice the capacity, higher efficiency and triple the economics, said Narayan Venkat, VP Product Management. The flash memory company also announced new software, the Violin Symphony Data Management System, which centralizes and simplifies the management of petabytes of flash storage across hundreds of Violin flash Memory Arrays.

Unlike the overall technology market where market disruptions happen more frequently, disruptions are more scarce in the data center, maybe once or twice every decade, said Venkat, with the last one being virtualization. “We see this decade that flash, or speed of memory, becomes the disruptive force.”

Enterprise flash is a small slice of the overall storage pie but it is outgrowing disk, and has created a feeding frenzy with new and established vendors racing to roll out hardware and software solutions ranging from all-flash arrays and hybrid/mixed disk and flash (or mixed SLC and MLC flash with disk), to server-side flash and integrated compute and storage appliances. Within the last few weeks we’ve had announcements from Diablo (flash connected directly to the processor’s memory controllers), EMC (ScaleIO acquisition) and LSI (Nytro MegaRAID refresh).

Using Gartner numbers, Violin claims top position in the flash storage array market, with 19% of the market, ahead of EMC (16%), IBM (15%), NetApp (11%), Hitachi (7%), Nimbus (6%), Pure Storage (6%), Whiptail (5%), and the rest of the pack (14%). In March Violin joined the hot server-based flash storage market with its third-generation PCIe cards (Velocity) and a 2-4X price-performance advantage.

Violin and the entire storage industry are trying to play catch up with the other two pillars of the data center, said Venkat. “Compute and network have kept pace with Moore’s Law. Storage, on the other hand, has not. We’re trying to bring the tremendous gains in performance and efficiency on the storage side so we can match the gains we’ve seen on the compute and network side over the last 10-15 years.”

The 6264 combines Violin’s flash controller technology with Toshiba’s 19nm flash technology, but the company cautioned that there are limits to going smaller. As semiconductor process geometries shrink, flash memory gets slower and more error-prone. Violin credits its flash management IP for being able to increase performance and capacity in the same footprint while ensuring data resiliency.

According to a prepared statement from Jeff Janukowicz, research director for solid state storage and enabling technologies at IDC, “SSD-based approaches are challenged to deliver the performance and reliability necessary due to inherent characteristics of smaller process geometry NAND flash. Solutions, such as Violin’s 19nm-based 6264 memory storage system, that can overcome these technical challenges, are well positioned to capitalize from the economic advantages associated with smaller geometry NAND flash.”

With the 6264 we doubled capacity, doubled the efficiency, cut energy in half and delivered three times the performance, said Venkat. “Next August the same box will go to 128GB at double the performance.” He expects throughput to jump from just a few million IOPs, to 10s of millions of IOPs, eventually, and flash to completely take over in the most demanding enterprise applications. The company wants to get the cost of flash down to $2-2.50/GB next year.

“I strongly believe that the majority of tier one or tier one and a half workloads will be flash. Spinning disks are not going to go away – they’re perfect for archival storage – but the majority of active datasets will be on flash.”

The gory details:

-Violin 6264, 3RU height, MLC, 64 TiB/70.3 TB raw capacity, 750,000 4KB IOPS, 4GB/s bandwidth; under 500 usec nominal latency, and 1500W power.

-Violin Symphony Data Management System, Web-based, predictive, automated and centralized control which can be run on a variety of devices, including smart phones and tablets; single pane of glass; proactive health checks; personalized dashboards; advanced analytics; and centralized management.



Author: Steve Wexler

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  1. Congratulations to Violin on releasing the new array. Most flash vendors are now delivering high IOPS or large capacity flash. For example, Skyera just pre-announced a 500 TB 1RU array. However, high IOPS and larger capacities of flash are only part of the problem. Many vendors are precisely focused on the issue of flash datacenter reliability. Last year there was almost nobody in the enterprise flash array space – this year there are large vendors such as HDS, EMC and NetApp that have entered and new vendors like Skyera, Nutanix, SolidFire and many others that have arrived with some excellent solutions. So we are seeing a sea change. The more important issues are uptime, resilience, non-disruptive upgrades, etc. You can see a write-up here :

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