Thursday, April 5, 2012

Flash is not just about storage

Adding NAND Flash as a new cache memory between the microprocessor and the hard drive can also increase computer system speed for either a laptop or a PC. There have been rumors that Intel was developing such a system though it likely was been postponed due to software development difficulties.

Ron Maltiel

Fusion-io CEO: Flash is not just about storage
Companies like EMC, that build Flash into their storage arrays, are
missing a trick, says David Flynn
By Sophie Curtis | Techworld | Published: 11:57 GMT, 04 April 12

The real advantage of high density NAND Flash is more its ability to
carry out application workload acceleration than its capacity for
storage, according to Flash storage vendor Fusion-io.
Speaking to Techworld last week, the company's chief executive David
Flynn said that companies like EMC are approaching the problem from
the wrong direction, integrating Flash into their storage arrays to
speed up the read/write process, rather than harnessing its memory
Fusion-io has built a storage memory platform that improves the
processing capabilities within a data centre by relocating
process-critical, or "active" data from centralised storage arrays to
the server where it is being processed – a method known as data
"The thing that has been the choke point or the constraint on how much
useful work you can get from a server hasn't been the amount of
processing, but the amount of data that you can feed it," said Flynn.
"RAM is a way to feed it data, and disks are a way to feed it data,
but RAM is too small and disks are too slow, so either way you can't
get large quantities of data into the processor fast."
Flynn said that the company's ioDrives have a hundred times the
capacity of a memory module and thousands of times the performance of
a disk drive. The devices plug directly into the server, meaning that
the server can act as primary storage and access applications faster.
"I'm not saying it gets rid of your disk drives or memory, it allows
those to be optimised – one for lots of capacity and the other for
performance," said Flynn. "So you still have RAM, you just don't need
as much as it. You still have disks, you just don't need as many
Flynn said the power is in being able to purchase performance
separately from capacity, and scale the two independently. With
today's storage arrays, improving performance means buying lots more
mechanical disks, and you get capacity even if you didn't ask for it,
he said. Satisfying those needs separately is cheaper, because you
don't end up overbuying capacity in order to supply performance.
This is particularly significant in a virtualised environment, where
the savings made on server consolidation are often dwarfed by the
additional spend on the storage arrays. By plugging a Flash drive into
a server, the data from the storage area network (SAN) is cached, so
it is no longer necessary to keep adding disks to get performance.
"The biggest limiting factor on how many VMs you can put on a server
is how much memory you put in it. If you had a huge amount of memory,
you wouldn't care about your storage performance," said Flynn. "This
gives you that memory capacity, so you don't have to worry about the
performance in your storage and can size it solely for capacity."
By giving companies the ability to add performance from outside of the
SAN, where vendors control the markup, they are able to scale things
more cost effectively and benefit from buying more software licenses,
added Flynn.
"This isn't just about the fundamental change of the medium, it's
about the change of the market to an open market," he said. "The open
models win. This is how we will compete with the likes of EMC."

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