06 Mar 2013
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EMC looking more flashy by the day

By Donovan Jackson

Flash continues to dominate the hardware announcements of storage vendors, with EMC today announcing a range of products under its Xtrem family. The products include a ExtremSF Flash Card and an ExtremIO all-flash array. As can be expected, these gadgets mean serious speed in the data centre – the kind of speed (and price performance) that led to key EMC competitor NetApp predicting the demise of high speed disc.

Speaking from San Francisco in an exclusive interview with Techday,  Zahid Hussain, senior vice president and general manager of EMC's flash products division, pointed out that there are characteristics that make flash advantageous for applications which are looking for much better response times.

“Flash has emerged as the best way to achieve that performance per unit of cost. It is becoming more mainstream as primary storage rather than delivering niche performance as more applications fall into this category [of benefiting from the faster I/O associated with flash],” he says.

Hussain foresees tens to hundreds of petabytes of flash shipping within the coming years, driving down price and extending the accessibility of the material for more use-cases. “It’s very definitely not niche any longer.”

However, he notes that flash is a very different medium to work with. “It has unique characteristics as compared to spinning media; these have to be taken into account in terms of the systems architecture and underlying software. There are layers that we have to build around data services, we have to bring experience and understanding and apply that to flash based media including rethinking how to achieve overall system performance where the storage is performing at factors of tens or hundreds in terms of throughput.”

It’s not, Hussain advances, a straightforward thing.

The storage chaps are more or less reading from the same hymnbook, too. In line with NetApp’s prediction of ‘bye-bye high speed disc’, Hussein says this stuff isn’t necessarily for the creation of hybrid environments.

Instead, “While some [enterprise flash solutions] are, it is much broader than that. We’re delivering server flash at various capacities, in a half height, half length PCIE form factor, achieving very high performances - a million IOPS – with low power consumption. You can use as a cache connecting to hybrid arrays, or as a local data store not caching to an array. You can connect multiple flash stores and cluster them, pool them together, you can start to mirror across these for high availability.”

Sounds pretty good, but there will also still be high cost for that performance; calculators out, everyone, to assess whether or not that old cost/performance equation’s going to balance.

  • EMC’s XtremSF is server Flash hardware. It can be deployed as either direct attached storage (DAS) that sits within the server to deliver high performance—or it can be deployed in combination with EMC XtremSW Cache (formerly EMC VFCache) server caching software. XtremSF 550 GB and 2.2 TB eMLC capacities are currently available globally, with 700 GB and 1.4 TB expected in the second quarter of 2013.
  • EMC’s XtremIO array provides scale-out architecture delivers higher levels of "functional IOPS" to applications that require high levels of random I/O performance, such as OLTP databases, server virtualisation and VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure). These arrays are presently available only to select customers.

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