Unlike VCE partner Cisco’s much-anticipated-but-delivered-a-month-late SDN response, EMC’s latest flash storage announcement, the general availability of the XtremIO All-Flash Array, took place within the time line initially scheduled, if barely. In March the company said the arrays would be generally available in the fourth quarter, and the official announcement was made on Thursday.
Flash is nothing new for the world’s largest storage vendor – over half of its VMAX and VNX storage arrays ship with some amount of flash, and it has been offering flash since 2008 – but there are a host of established and start-up competitors who have been offering various flash flavors, from all flash, to hybrid, server and even memory-based. However XtremIO is the only flash array that not only delivers high performance but can scale and delivers reliable performance, believes Ehud Rokach, Vice President and General Manager, XtremIO Business Unit, EMC. “You can’t break it”, he said. Rokach joined EMC in May last year when it bought the Israel-based XtremIO for $430 million.
EMC expects the new array, which has been shipping in limited availability since April and now has more than 100 customers, to be a leader in the all-flash array market, which IDC has predicted will be worth $1.2 billion by 2015. That’s chump change for a company that did $5.5 billion last quarter, and where the global disk market was worth $7.7 billion in the second quarter. But flash is the sexy new technology, and while it barely constitutes enterprise storage’s tail, it appears to be giving the storage industry a pretty good wagging.
The flash storage array market is currently dominated by Violin Memory (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%). According to an August survey, 37% of enterprises will deploy SSDs/Flash in existing storage arrays.
XtremIO is a scale-out array based on building blocks called X-Bricks, which are currently shipping with 10TB of capacity. Rokach said 20TB X-Bricks will be available early next year. The arrays deliver up to one million fully random IOPS with over 250TB of effective capacity in a single cluster with inline deduplication, and a single cluster scales from two to eight controllers and up to 128 cores.
“What I find most compelling about XtremIO is the unique architecture,” said IDC’s Laura Dubois, Research VP of Storage, in a prepared statement. “Core functions such as granular metadata processing, shared in-memory metadata handling and content-based data placement are enablers to XtremIO’s impressive sustained IOPS metrics while offering core services – including deduplication and copy data services. There are other all-flash arrays with impressive performance metrics – but not for a sustained basis. The other standout capabilities with this system are native inline deduplication, in-memory metadata only copy and a scale-out architecture. These are attributes not all of the ‘all-flash array’ solutions on the market offer.”
A number of EMC customers and partners showered XtremIO with praise, but plenty of its flash competitors were less kind. Those that offered their thoughts on the various failings and omissions of the array included Dell, HDS, IBM, Kaminario, Nutanix, Pure Storage, Violin Memory and X-IO.
Dell went even further, pushing a recent analyst’s report that found it was the price leader in the all-flash world. The Enterprise Strategy Group report stated that the street price of the Dell SC8000 with a mix of fast SLC and slower but less expensive 1.6TB MLC SSD is “four to six times lower” than all-flash solutions from major vendors. A second independent survey by Storage Strategies NOW found that storage users are using or expect to use Dell flash technology ahead of all other vendors.
ESG’s Mark Peters, Senior Analyst, agreed that price (at least, or perhaps only, when measured in the traditional $/GB way) is a major barrier to wider flash adoption. “It is economics and economics alone that has created the storage hierarchy in the first place – after all, if all storage had an identical TCO, who wouldn’t have a lot more flash?”
Despite the host of competitors nipping at EMC’s heels, it still accounts for around 25% of the enterprise storage market, and isn’t going away anytime soon. And much like tape, rumors of disk’s demise are greatly exaggerated, especially by flash vendors.
“We do expect all-flash to take an increasing and ever-growing portion of the market, but it will not go from 0 to 100% immediately,” said Rokach. “We certainly see flash as more cost effective for some areas where you look at the cost per solution, and not cost per gigabyte.”
There are a number of use cases, like desktop virtualization (VDI), virtual servers, massively consolidated databases and test/development environments where performance, not cost, is the main criteria, he said. “This is why we see a huge interest… it means EMC customers have more choice now and can get a better answer now, regardless of the need.”
Under The Hood
XtremIO features several unique flash innovations: a scale-out multi-controller architecture with linear scalability; deduplication that is always on, and always inline; data protection that is 6X more efficient and 4X faster than traditional RAID.
The secret sauce that differentiates XtremIO from any other all-flash array is the architecture, which incorporates four technologies that maximize performance without compromising efficiency or durability:
-Content-Based Data Placement keeps the array inherently balanced and optimized to within a fraction of a percent across all SSDs and array controllers and removes duplicate data inline in the data path;
-Dual-Stage Metadata Engine allows the array to fully leverage the random access nature of flash and place data anywhere in the array without requiring system level back-end cleaning processes (also known as garbage collection); this enables the array to avoid the up to a 50% performance hit in IOPS, up to 1000% increase in latency, and up to 10X reduction in flash endurance compared to other flash arrays that use system level garbage collection;
-XtremIO Data Protection (XDP) is a flash-specific algorithm that guards against SSD failures while delivering up to 6X more usable capacity than traditional RAID; and,
-Shared In-Memory Metadata enables the array to deliver the widest range of performance, and to rapidly clone information already in the array to massively accelerate common tasks like deploying virtual machines; virtual machine clones are created at up to 20X the network bandwidth between the host and the array, several times faster and with lower impact to production virtual machines than other all-flash arrays.