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SMART Storage, Diablo brew a wee DRAM of MYSTERY tonic

All we needed is some flash, some system memory and $36m

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SMART Storage and Diablo Technologies have promised to glue SMART's flash drives and Diablo's memory-channel storage (MCS) electronics into a combined product.

Diablo's website says MCS is "where the memory and flash subsystem are fused together". Well, what does that actually mean? It goes on to say: "MCS will ... allow applications to seamlessly access data from system memory and flash storage simultaneously with extremely low latency and very high throughput."

It sounds as if the flash in SMART's solid-state drives (SSDs) will directly interface a chunk of memory. Precise details of how SMART and Diablo achieve this aren't available just yet. It's a bit of a mystery.

Diablo picked up $7.5m in funding during March, taking total funding for this C-round to $36m. Of that sum, the firm raised $28m in November 2012. Diablo mentioned its "soon-to-be-announced MCS products" in its March release.

In other words, MCS as a usable technology doesn't exist yet. The $36m is going to be used to develop it further.

Diablo, based in Ottawa, Canada, was founded in 2002 to develop memory access technology by three ex-Nortel guys: CEO Richard Badalone, VP for “business ops” Michael Parziale, and Franco Forlini, veep for strategic customer engineering. It received $15m in B-round funding in 2008, and a further $7m in an A-round in 2007, making total funding $58m - not taking into account whatever seed funding there was. This hack reckons that the MCS's inception prompted a second burst of activity around 2012.

However, at the time of the November funding announcement, Diablo said its customers were tier-1 OEMs. That seems to have changed, or at least, the idea of going to them on its own seems to have changed.

The company formed a strategic Technical Advisory Board in January this year to "participate in the strategic direction of the company's Memory Channel Storage technology from an applications perspective"/

Translation: “Hey, we got this great technology; what do we need to do to develop and sell it? Direct OEM sales don't see to be the thing.”

The exclusive relationship with SMART suggests that a close relationship is needed with an SSD vendor; there needs to be some degree of integration between the SSD and MCS. Otherwise, surely, Diablo would position MCS as open technology and say customers could use any certified SSD.

Also, it's interesting that Diablo did not choose to go with Intel, WD's HGST unit, LSI, Micron, Plextor, Samsung, STEC, Toshiba, or any other server SSD vendor. You would think that, for example, both LSI and Micron have equivalent technology expertise to SMART and a wider channel. So what did SMART bring to Diablo's table that was so compelling?

The two say the "new SMART/Diablo partnership will create systems with dramatic latency improvements, increased transaction throughput, IO bandwidth, density and scalability, with reduced operating costs."

Your hack reckons there could be some close integration involved here, something that ruled out other enterprise SDD suppliers. It's a puzzle.

Diablo and SMART say a memory channel-charged SSD will be faster than the same NAND using a PCIe bus, having ultra low latency, which will provide "50 per cent higher transaction rates with 80 per cent lower latency in database caching and OLTP applications," taking into account the aforementioned VM density increase as well.

The lower latency implies that the NAND's effective IOPS rate will be boosted, not by speeding up the NAND but by reducing the latency of data access by the CCU to the NAND. It could be that MCS provides storage memory; the virtual pooling of DRAM and NAND that is a Fusion-io focus.

If that is the case then the SMART + MCS combo could be sold on an OEM basis (but why should SMART + MCS be any better at OEM selling than Diablo on its own) to integrators. It doesn't sound like an easy retrofit to existing servers, but what do we know?

The SMART SSDs use 2-bit MLC NAND and not the faster single layer cell stuff, with SMART crediting its Guardian technology for making the MLC fast, reliable and long-lived. The two have not said when any joint product will appear, restricting themselves to this canned statement:

"Under the terms of the agreement SMART Storage Systems and Diablo will jointly develop the new ULL SSD product. The product will be exclusively sold by SMART Storage Systems and will be jointly supported by the two companies' world-class customer support teams."

If we had to guess, we'd say 2014 would see the product appearing on the markets. ®

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