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Flash slash Skyhawk smells blood, hunts disk array prey

Skyera touts Ferrari speed for banger prices

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As makers of flash-disk hybrid arrays try to undercut all-flash array vendors, Skyera's Skyhawk scents blood and swoops down on them all with its $2.99-per-GB NAND-tipped talons.

OK, all right, is it just another all-flash array startup? Sure, but this one was founded by ex-SandForce guys. Their company was bought by LSI and more than 14 million SandForce flash controllers are in enterprise-grade solid-state disks (SSDs) worldwide.

Skyera was founded by Radoslav Danilak, its CEO and a co-founder of SandForce, and Rod Mullendore, its chief architect and SandForce's chief architect. These guys decided to use 20nm consumer-grade multi-level-cell NAND flash and optimised the non-volatile memory with an in-house controller; digital signal processing; extended error correction; a RAID controller; and an algorithm to lower the number of writes, each of which wears out the memory a little bit at a time. The goal is to extend chip endurance to five years of enterprise usage.

Skyera says its competitors can't match its endurance level with cheap flash. It doesn't give much away about its controller technology, simply saying it "adapts to different flash behaviour as the media ages". Reliability features include a hot spare storage node, toleration of simultaneous block failures in the RAID controller and adaptive retries in the flash controller.

The system includes hardware compression, in-line deduplication and encryption plus an Ethernet switch linked to the rest of the Skyera hardware by a high-speed bus. There are 40 1GbitE and three 10GbitE ports. Servers can connect via intervening Ethernet switches or directly.

The software includes snapshots, clones, storage quality of service, thin provisioning, multi-psth support, dynamic re-sizing, LUN management and more.

The box is puny in size: you get 44TB in a half-depth 1U rack enclosure. Skyera says a 44TB native capacity Pure Storage system takes up fifty times the space.

Skyhawk comes in 12, 22 and 44TB capacity priced roughly $48,000, $77,000 and $131,000 respectively. The 44TB model has a $2.99/GB raw cost which Skyera says goes down to $0.99/GB with 3:1 deduplication and compression.

This compares to a 144TB Tegile Zebi HA 2800 hybrid flash-disk drive array's $1.09/GB street price with a 3.5:1 data reduction ratio applied. Skyhawk has Zebi beat on the price front and it doesn't need a great slug of cheap disk to do it.

Can Skyera pull this off, this near-revolution in MLC flash array pricing?

Let's meet the competition

There are at least a dozen all-flash array vendors and startup competitors in or about to be in the field:

  • EMC, with Thunder and Xtremio coming
  • EraStor (part of the Nexenta reseller group)
  • Fusion-io ION, with manufacturers and partners coming
  • GreenBytes, which uses ZFS and a re-written dedupe technology
  • GridIron
  • Kaminario, which has a performance focus
  • Micron, with a coming system
  • NexGen
  • Nimbus Data, established for a couple of years already
  • Pure Storage, gaining market perception as a main player
  • SolidFire
  • TMS, which has been around for several years
  • Violin Memory, established as a high-end player for some years
  • Virident
  • Whiptail, with a medium-level and small enterprise marketing approach

Skyera looks set to market its pricing edge and space-efficiency from the get-go. Its rival vendors are building distribution channel operations and telling their channel partners to go after the disk-drive array vendors with a vengeance. It's easy meat for IO-bound apps: disk arrays simply cannot compete on a performance basis as disk latencies suck.

Generally, though, they all need data reduction technology to get their cost-per-GB looking favourable compared to high-end disks with 15K Fibre Channel. Skyera looks to have similar pricing to cheaper near-line disk, such as 10K SAS drives.

It's very early days for Skyera and it's building an extensive new system with early-access testing just starting. Can it really offer Ferrari speed for people-carrier cost? A lot of eyes will be looking in Skyera's direction to see whether these ex-SandForce guys can pull it off again.

General product availability is slated for the first quarter of next year. ®

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