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One day later: EMC declares war on all-flash array, server flash card rivals

Rolls out XtremIO array, renamed VFCache

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Thunder dies

With such a layer there is no need for Project Thunder, EMC's notion of putting multiple VFCache cards in a networked box providing a server networked cache. Thunder dies away. Ader confirmed this: "Once we purchased XtremIO and XtremSF cards we basically felt all the use cases for customers were covered." He said Project Thunder technology would be used over time in other EMC products.

EMC blogger Storagezilla wrote: "The Thunder hardware has been shelved and the Thunder data path and data services software has been absorbed by XtremIO, XtremSW Cache and parts of the XtremSF Suite ‘later this year’".

EMC does not say that the Xtrem SW suite will support the XtremIO array and Ader gave the same answer to a question about this as to the one about XtremIO array integration with other EMC drive arrays. So not with the first version of the product but perhaps later.

Josh Goldstein from EMC's XtremIO business said XtremSF cards work with the XtremSW cache, adding "from a caching perspective, absolutely." The card and SW can sit in front of an XtremIO array and VMAX, VNX and Isilon arrays and cache data coming to the host server.

Dan Cobb, the chief technical officer for EMC's Flash Business Unit, mentioned EMC's RecoverPoint any-to-any replication and Federated Live Array Migration and said; "We'll obviously take a look at other use cases over time. RecoverPoint and Federated Live Array Migration are culturally compatible with what we are doing."

It is understood that XtremSW Cache software works with third-party PCIe cards, such as ones from Fusion-io.

The competition

EMC is now opening a competitive front against every other all-flash array vendor and against every enterprise PCIE flash card vendor. On the ground-up designed flash array front the competitors include GreenBytes, Huawei Dorado, IBM/TMS, Kaminario, Nimbus Data, Pure Storage, Skyera, SolidFire and Whiptail; nine other vendors. More are coming; both HP and NetApp have in-house all-flash arrays under development. On the PCIe card front there are 15 or more other vendors.

Violin Memory's 6000 array is currently the industry leader in the all-flash array market, and it kicks XtremIO's ass capacity-wise; the 6332 has up to 32TB usable capacity whereas an 8-node XtremIO cluster tops out at 25.2TB usable with 16 x 200GB SSDs inside each node. A 6-node Whiptail INVICTA has up to 72TB, but then it hasn't got deduplication, and neither has the Violin array. EMC is not a raw usable capacity leader, but may look considerably better once the effects of dedupe are taken into account.

Performance comparisons will have to wait until we have common performance measures across the various vendors.

Fusion-io CEO and co-founder David Flynn said EMC is trying to get to where Fusion-io was five years ago. The CPU usage point is wrong, as batching up I/Os to reduce writes to flash delays applications, he claims. Each app needs its I/Os completed as fast as possible.

Flynn said: "You have to look at it holistically from the application point of view rather than the storage point of view." Fusion-io has a customer who found they could support twice as many VMs per server with an MLC ioDrive2 card from Fusion-io compared to an EMC PCIe card using SLC flash. The Fusion-io card in fact used less server CPU resources than the EMC card.

A Violin Memory spokesperson said EMC presented information about MB/sec and IOPS but not latency, saying: "I'm not sure what these 'sustained' graphs are supposed to signify? The problem once the PCIe card "warms up" is they throw huge latency spikes as the grooming process tries to clear up new flash to keep up with the write load. That is what customers complain about and slows down applications."

Violin retorts it has consistent latency numbers: "All Violin products (Array and cards) use vRAID which is our erase/write hiding algorithm that allow the product to perform under load while keeping latency low (no spikes). It is the long MLC erases that kill you – reads get caught behind them and queue up. This is the core IP."

He also says there is: "No mention of price … With all the margin stacking it is understandable."

Stephen O'Donnell, chairman and CEO of GreenBytes, said: "With today's solid state data centre announcement, it's clear that EMC has recognised that proprietary hardware is no longer differentiated and announced to the world that the true value of storage has moved inextricably into software. This thinking by EMC absolutely validates GreenBytes' patented vIO software-only virtual storage appliance that leverages vendor agnostic and best of breed hardware.

"A word of advice, if I were an EMC customer, I would be somewhat concerned about the maturity of this new software as it typically takes over three years to mature a storage stack."

EMC says we can expect higher capacity XtremSF cards in the future. XtremSF 550GB and 2.2TB eMLC capacities are available now, globally. The 700GB and 1.4TB capacities should be available on EMC price lists later this year - no ship date is mentioned. ®

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