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Big Blue flashing its x servers

Fusion-io notches up another OEM win

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IBM is OEM'ing Fusion-io's PCIe-connected flash for its x servers to accelerate data-heavy applications.

The big blue one is adding 160GB and 320GB ioDrive options to its Intel-based x server line, calling them High IOPS SSD PCEe Adapters (HISPA). They form a tier of memory between the server's DRAM and disk with IBM saying that, in some instances, they obviate the need for rack storage altogether.

Such cases will involve relatively small amounts of data overall, gigabytes rather than terabytes, which all needs to be accessible as quickly as possible. Equally the HISPA could be used as a cache for hot data.

Fusion's ioDRive uses fast single-level cell (SLC) NAND chips plugged into a server's PCIe bus. IBM is following in HP's footsteps, as Hurd's company introduced its IO Accelerator card, also based on Fusion-io's technology, back in March. Dell is the other major X86 server supplier and it resells Fusion's ioDrive cards.

IBM and Fusion announcement material talks about faster data access than for hard disk drives, much lower power consumption, less physical space needed - all the usual SSD benefits. The ioDRive has an extra NAND chip on its product, serving as an XOR parity chip, which it says eliminates "data loss due to chip failures and extending the usable lifetime of the card". This reliability enhancement impressed IBM, it appears.

Seagate's SATA-connected Pulsar SSD, announced a couple of days ago, is also targeted at general server I/O acceleration applications, as is a STEC PCIe-connected product. Big Blue uses STEC solid state drives (SSDs) in its x server-powered SAN Volume Controller (SVC) product, apparently because the STEC form factor met SPC enclosure space limitations whereas the Fusion-io products did not.

Micron is also intending to introduce a PCI-e-connected solid state product, so this server flash area is a hotbed of competition with four credible SSD suppliers chasing the three big established server OEMs - Dell, HP and IBM - and no doubt talking energetically to wannabe server supplier Acer.

This Big Blue deal is a big one for Fusion-io which has recently received an undisclosed amount of funding from Samsung, amongst whose interests is a NAND chip foundry operation. After the flashiness of the hiring of Steve Wozniak as chief scientist and the earlier million IOPS demos with IBM and HP, the company is notching up some impressive design wins. ®

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