Feeds

Server vendors and the dead hand of commoditisation

They didn't invent PCIe flash. Why not? 

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Comment The leading server vendors have known about the inhibiting effect of slow disk drive performance on their users for years, yet have done nothing about it. It's been left to companies like Fusion-io and Virident to solve that problem by inventing and popularising PCIe flash.

The problem is well known. When users run applications those apps need to be loaded into memory and access data. Memory access happens in microseconds whereas disk drive access takes milliseconds. The answer is in the "bleeding' obvious" category; insert an intervening layer of memory between DRAM and disk.

Fusion-io with its ioDrive and Virident with its tachION card use this concept and have their NAND flash memory inserted as an intervening tier of storage - slower than DRAM but faster than disk - between DRAM and disk. It can be viewed as a cache and other hairs can be split, but the effect is the same; apps run faster.

Michael Dell was an early investor in Fusion-io. But apart from that there was no interest in PCIe flash cards from the server vendors until Fusion-io started running various million IOPS demos with, for example, IBM. Now it and Virident have landed several server OEM deals and the concept is well understood.

Sun made clever efforts to use flash to speed up its ZFS filesystem and Solaris but these efforts did not spread to the big three - HP, IBM and Dell - which preferred to wait for a third-party, commodity solution to the problem rather than engage in their own engineering development.

Minor server manufacturers such as Acer, Hitachi and even Intel with its white box efforts, were also conspicuously absent from the PCIe flash party. We are seeing the dead hand of commoditisation. By all means make a better server mousetrap but the main architectural ingredients inside the server box, the X86 CPU, DRAM, PCIe bus, third-party O/S, and disk drive storage, stay inviolate.

Commoditisation crippled innovation in an area which mattered, mattered deeply because virtualising servers made the disk I/O problem worse.

In fact virtualisation, the work of VMware, was itself directly related to server disk I/O performance drag because earlier efforts to keep the server or desktop PC CPU busy when disk I/O delays caused it to be idle, meaning multi-tasking operating systems, were so bad at sorting out the problem.

VMware is, after all, just a glorified way of multi-tasking apps in servers and, originally, PCs, that was necessary because Windows and Unix were so crap at the job.

In the storage world there was one vendor that did see the importance of a flash memory layer in the server. That was NetApp with its PAM (Performance Acceleration Module) now called onomatopeically the Flash Cache. The server in question is the X86-based controller in NetApp's FAS arrays. Kudos is due to NetApp's engineers for looking further than their nose when fixing the problem. No other storage array vendor did that at the time, except Sun.

Therefore we can argue that NetApp and Sun (now Oracle) are the two most innovative server suppliers, while Acer, Dell, HP, and IBM are the least innovative. What do you think? ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
The cloud that goes puff: Seagate Central home NAS woes
4TB of home storage is great, until you wake up to a dead device
Azure TITSUP caused by INFINITE LOOP
Fat fingered geo-block kept Aussies in the dark
You think the CLOUD's insecure? It's BETTER than UK.GOV's DATA CENTRES
We don't even know where some of them ARE – Maude
Intel offers ingenious piece of 10TB 3D NAND chippery
The race for next generation flash capacity now on
Want to STUFF Facebook with blatant ADVERTISING? Fine! But you must PAY
Pony up or push off, Zuck tells social marketeers
Oi, Europe! Tell US feds to GTFO of our servers, say Microsoft and pals
By writing a really angry letter about how it's harming our cloud business, ta
SAVE ME, NASA system builder, from my DEAD WORKSTATION
Anal-retentive hardware nerd in paws-on workstation crisis
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence
Download Choosing a Cloud Hosting Provider with Confidence to learn more about cloud computing - the new opportunities and new security challenges.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.