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Virident lures Web2.0 biz punters with refreshed server flash card

App acceleration with the Gen 2 FlashMax card

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Virident is on its third annual refresh of its app-accelerating server flash card and is full of discreet excitement about what backers Intel, Cisco and a secret but major IT supplier are doing with its FlashMax 2 product.

This is a PCIe-connected server flash card, using SCM (storage-class memory) architecture, with up to 1.1TB of single level cell (SLC) capacity and 550GB, 1.1TB or 2.2TB of multi-level cell (MLC) capacity. The NAND is 25nm product with 20nm coming by the end of the year. FlashMax 2 has a low profile firm factor, six inches by three. The MLC version has 3TB of raw NAND, 2.2 TB usable because of over-provisioning. With flash management technologies, including sophisticated garbage collection, it can sustain 7.5 full drive writes a day for five years, according to Virident "15PB written for every terabyte".

Virident FlashMax

Virident FlashMax

The company was founded in 2006 and developed a NOR flash card with a partner – Spansion. NOR was chosen over NAND because of its higher performance and reliability. Virident CEO and co-founder Kumar Ganapathy said the company had a NOR-based product four years – before Fusion-io – that did a few million IOPS. But Spansion crashed in 2009 causing a major headache. There was just two months of cash left and Ganapathy and his team had to re-position to a NAND-based product, and re-fund Virident. There have been two funding rounds in the last two years, taking total funding to $80m. Ganapathy says Virident "is on the way back [and] getting a world-class product," adding: "We understand flash very well."

Unlike other flash card companies, Virident doesn't lead with headline performance numbers, which are dismissed by Ganapathy as "hero numbers". Instead Virident promises a level of performance that can be sustained for five years irrespective of workload. It supplies peak numbers too but its forte is the sustained level. The company uses six different benchmarks, including SSD Bench 2 and 3. Ganapathy says: "Our product will have the highest performance across a range of application suites. .. [It's] 50 to 400 per cent faster than Fusion-io's ioDrive 2."

FlashMax 2 will do a minimum of 200,000 IOPS with 4K blocks, using a 70:30 read:write workload mix: "This is the lowest number we will hit with any workload," says the CEO.

He says it's highly reliable, with a Flash RAID scheme and other measures that can cope with NAND die and board component failures.

Big name customers, channel sales and investors

Virident has around 50 customers and a mix of direct and channel sales. Many customers are cloud and/or Web 2.0 businesses, like LinkedIn, who appreciate flash card acceleration of SQL software. There is also an OEM business "with strong relationships with storage OEMs [and] a couple of server OEMs." Ganapathy said he "can't say who ... but there will be news before the end of the year."

Intel and Cisco were Series C investors and Virident is partnering with Intel on servers and doing something undisclosed with Cisco as well. We know Cisco is integrating PCIe flash products from LSI and Fusion-io in its UCS servers so Virident might be a third string in its UCS server flash bow. Another backer is "a leading storage hardware and software ... provider." Ganapathy adds that Virident is partnering "with a leader in the data centre space."

The flash card firm is partnering with other companies too: "We want to change how people think of solid stare from a server insertion standpoint," says Ganapathy. "We're writing software that can virtualise it across a rack or multiple racks. We're partnering with virtualisation companies, hypervisors, leaders in the market." A "first step is ensuring ESXi support with FlashMax 2. …We have a very clear end-game."

Is STEC competition? "We hear about them; I don't see them. We primarily see Fusion-io. We win the performance bake-offs," Ganapathy claims.

Virident is similar to Fusion-io as both use host-based drivers. Then there are competitors like LSI, OCZ, Intel with the 910, and SanDisk – which all use RAID chips with back-end SSDs: "It's easy to RAID-based products [and] you have a time-to-market advantage," says the CEO.

Next year we can expect a doubling of density with a 4.4TB MLC product coming.

Interestingly Kaminario, which uses Fusion-io cards in its networked flash K2 array products, shares an investor with Virident and the same VC representative sits on both boards. If Kaminario wanted to move away from Fusion after that company's ION Data Acceleration announcement, then Virident would be ready and waiting.

Ganapathy wants us to understand that Virident "has the best solid-state technology by far," and his company is poised to break out of the PCIe flash card pack. He would say that, wouldn't he, and we will have to wait and see if FlashMax 2 does the business and accelerates ViridenT's business as much as Virident says it will accelerate server applications. ®

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