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Violin strings out fresh flash trio

Will arrays be music to CIOs' ears?

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Shared flash array supplier Violin Memory is announcing three new products, beefing up both the capacity and performance of its products.

The existing 3000 range consists of two 3U rackmount enclosures: the 3200 is a 10TB product offering 220,000 sustained write IOPS from its single-level cell (SLC) flash, while the 3140 is a 40TB capacity box using 2-bit multi-level cell (MLC) flash. That was what was available, up until yesterday anyway.

Violin Memory 3200 Memory Array

Violin Memory 3200 Memory Array. Picture from Diamond Point International.

Now we have a 3220, boosting the SLC capacity to 20TB, 16 of which are usable. It does 250,000 IOPS and has a 1GB/sec bandwidth plus a 240 microsecond latency. It is built from 84 VIMMs (Violin In-line Memory Modules) with four spare VIMMs. The VIMMS use Toshiba flash chips, Toshiba having recently invested in Violin. There is a vRAID facility to cover against NAND chip and VIMM failure, and all components are backed by redundancy to provide high-availability.

The 6000 range goes higher up the scale, though still using the 3U enclosure. A 6616 offers up to 16TB of SLC flash, with 12 usable. It has 64 VIMMS with four spares and its latency is under 200 microseconds. It does one million RAIDed IOPS with a 4GB/sec bandwidth through eight Fibre Channel or 10GbitE ports. With 10 of these in a rack, the performance ramps up to 10 million IOPS and 40GB/sec.

The 6232 uses a 2-bit MLC and provides 32TB of capacity (22 usable), still using 64 VIMMs, with 500,000 IOPS, a 600 microsecond latency, and 2.4GB/sec bandwidth. Violin claims this is the fastest MLC array on the market.

The idea is for these arrays, which can be clustered together, to replace the use of disk drive arrays for primary data storage duties. Violin describes the 6000 products as a "completely hot-swappable platform" with no single point of failure. CEO Don Basile says the 6000 products provides CIOs with "both the performance and reliability to build a bullet-proof, state-of-the-art, virtualised silicon datacentre".

Violin tells us that the 6000 products have redundant memory gateways. These are controllers that virtualise the flash storage inside the 6000 and manage the network connectivity.

The 3000 line is targeted at apps needing raw performance and capacity and departmental use. The 6000 line is for enterprise datacentres and primary data storage, with its high availability.

Competing with TMS

How do the new boxes compare to TMS RamSans?

The RamSan-630 is a 10TB, 3U, SLC flash array offering one million IOPS and 10GB/sec – this is faster than the 3200 and the 3220 in both IOPS and GB/sec terms. The RamSan-810 offers 10TB in a 1U enclosure, using 2-bit enterprise MLC NAND. It delivers 320,000 IOPS and has a 4GB/sec bandwidth.

Violin doesn't have a direct competitor; the 6232 offers 32TB in its 3U box with 500,000 IOPS and a slower 2.4GB/sec. The 3140 offers 40TB in 3U form, four times more than the 810, so neither match the RamSan-810's mix of size, capacity and performance.

Violin reckons TMS uses a different way to measure performance, and if that's taken into account, Violin has better performance and value. Here's a spokesman on enterprise data centre requirements: "We need RAID protection across modules so that a module failure doesn't cause data loss. Violin measures IOPS this way while TMS assumes that RAID across cards is not required. If you configure TMS for RAID across cards, you get half the IOPS, bandwidth and half the capacity. Worse still, the customer needs to use a software RAID solution or find a box to do this function... these approaches typically take IOPS down below 200K. A reliable 10TB system would require two RAMSAN 810s and two RAID Controllers.. about four rack units."

Violin says its sustained I/O speeds assume varying read-write scenarios, ranging from pure writes to 70 per cent read, 30 per cent write mixes. TMS and general industry practice is to use best case I/O numbers. Pertinent to that, Violin says that "for some workloads the 6232 delivers 1 Million IOPS and 4GB/sec".

Also, by excluding any single point of failure from the 6000 line, Violin has higher availability than TMS, which is working on high-availability product but has no publicly available delivery date. The Violin spokesperson said: "Our platforms support hot-swap for all flash modules. In addition, the 6000 allows hot swap of all controllers and is designed to support non-disruptive upgrades and six 9's availability."

Violin hasn't released pricing information so we can't compare the products with RamSan ones on a price/performance basis. In general it looks as if Violin has increased capacity and speed but not to the point where it is a match for TMS in both raw capacity and performance terms. Violin claims it is more than a match in real-world performance and far ahead in availability. ®

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