Feeds

Server vendors and the dead hand of commoditisation

They didn't invent PCIe flash. Why not? 

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

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? ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Pay to play: The hidden cost of software defined everything
Enter credit card details if you want that system you bought to actually be useful
Shoot-em-up: Sony Online Entertainment hit by 'large scale DDoS attack'
Games disrupted as firm struggles to control network
HP busts out new ProLiant Gen9 servers
Think those are cool? Wait till you get a load of our racks
Silicon Valley jolted by magnitude 6.1 quake – its biggest in 25 years
Did the earth move for you at VMworld – oh, OK. It just did. A lot
VMware's high-wire balancing act: EVO might drag us ALL down
Get it right, EMC, or there'll be STORAGE CIVIL WAR. Mark my words
Forrester says it's time to give up on physical storage arrays
The physical/virtual storage tipping point may just have arrived
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?