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The God Box: Searching for the holy grail array

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Fusion's new stake

That is where Fusion-io has a new stake in the game, a bet at the storage-server casino that might surprise us.

It has its Auto-Commit Memory (ACM) scheme, which bypasses the (disk-based) I/O subsystem in the O/S hosting a server and dies direct memory-to-NAND reads and writes. Fusion reckons its effective ioDrive flash card performance could be boosted 16 times or more in IOPS terms with this approach. Wikibon uses the term Atomic Writes for the concept.

That means Fusion-io is the only vendor in our area to get rid of disk latency, network latency and O/S latency – but it does so at the cost of not being shareable and not having enterprise-class data protection features. It's stymied, right? Not necessarily, and what's it is doing can also be done by competitors.

Aprius was a server PCIe bus extending and virtualising startup with technology to let servers share peripheral devices at PCIe bus speeds over a virtual PCIe bus network. It failed last year. Fusion-io marketing VP Rick White said:

Fusion-io acquired certain Aprius IP assets, including three US patents and 20 patent applications last summer. There certainly were a lot of smart people at Aprius, and a number of former Aprius employees are now working at Fusion-io. Please note that these folks did not join Fusion-io as part of our patent acquisition. They joined us as any employee would after going through our standard hiring process.

Now why would Fusion-io do that? Rick White wouldn't say: "I wish we could share more info on all aspects of our business and our plans. Unfortunately sometimes we’re not able to comment as freely as we’d like to but I hope you can understand."

VIrtual ioDrives

Fusion-io sees EMC building Project Thunder, a high-speed networked flash array box full of Lightning flash cards, InfiniBand-class links to servers and, no doubt, seen as a FAST VP tier by back-end VMAX or VNX arrays. Oops, Fusion would be outflanked here by an EMC combo of DAS flash speed, flash as server storage, and enterprise drive array protection levels – plus the obvious risk of VMware getting direct memory-to-NAND I/O capability like that of Fusion's ACM.

That's it, game over – with EMC killing O/S latency, network latency and HDD latency in one storage box. Only Fusion is not going to let this happen. What it may do, or so the El Reg storage desk believes, is add Aprius PCIe virtualisation technology to its ioDrive technology and build a shareable ioDrive array – something that partner NexGen does at the moment.

We would see servers having virtual ioDrives, storage memory areas, mapped to partitioned-off space in a shared, PCIe bus-networked Fusion-io array, and still being capable of direct memory-to-NAND reads and writes.

There needs to be another piece, or even two pieces possibly added here. One is enterprise-class data protection with snapshots, clones and replication. The other is a capacity play. Fusion-io could add its own backend disk storage or do a deal with a cloud storage provider – like Nirvanix or Joyent (both enterprise-class), or Amazon and Google – and have the cloud become the back-end capacity storage vault and protection destination. That would significantly reduce its R&D.

IOV

Server I/O virtualisation (IOV) is a tough game but looks to be an essential piece of our God box-building exercise. Micron has picked up Virtensys which failed to popularise its technology. Aprius crashed and, by the way, a co-founder, Peter Kirkpatrick, now works as a principle engineer for Violin Memory, so it too could be thinking of taking its existing direct server PCIe connect capability and turning it into a shared server PCIe connection capability, and so getting rid of network latency.

EMC's pre-selling of ProjectThunder has raised the stakes in the high-speed server-to-server-and-storage interconnect game enormously. It and Fusion-io have the most skin in the game. The other flash array, flash-HDD combo array, PCIe flash cache, and flash-enhanced drive array vendors have to decide whether the end game we have described here – our mythical God Box – is a coming storage reality or pie in the sky.

If it is unreal, then carry on doing what you are doing.

If it isn't ... you are toast - unless you respond. ®

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