EMC launches 'Project Lightning' PCIe cards

'Project Thunder' to follow in Q2 as an all-flash appliance

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Matthew Brisse, an analyst with research firm Gartner, said SSD is really changing the dynamics of the data center for storage. "It's changing the way customers are architecting storage and changing SAN topologies," Brisse said. "We're seeing pressure being put on traditional SAN models."

Brisse said EMC's Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) software, which migrates data to various types of storage within an array -- SSD, Fibre Channel and SAS or SATA hard drives -- doesnt really help much for most VDI workloads.

Brisse referred to VDI environments as "I/O blenders" where hundreds or thousands of workstations require a tremendous amount of I/OPS. "When you throw that into a tiering system [like EMC's FAST], its got to start serving all those random I/Os to the FAST Cache. Those algorithms will slow it down," he said.

"If you put the SSD into the server, that's were we're seeing the efficiency of scale," he added.

VFCache cards, which EMC announced were coming at its user conference last year, are similar to what Fusion-io sells, but have far less capacity. EMC would not reveal pricing for the drives, saying only that it will be aggressive in pricing against its competition.

Fusion-io sells PCIe-based flash cards that have capacities of up to 10TB and 1.3 million I/Os per second (IOPS) and 6.7GB/sec throughput.

Fusion-io CEO David Flynn said EMC's announcement validates what his company has been doing for years.

"They're using SLC, which is like three times more expensive on a per-gigabyte basis," he said. "They're probably going to try to spin that as a good thing, but SLC is so 2008 compared to MLC, even in the enterprise space."

Flynn quipped that EMC is using SLC because they're depending on Micron and other component vendors, who don't have the expertise to make MLC NAND flash as reliable as Fusion-io. "If they're buying a component through Micron, they have to pay the markup on it, which will make it four to six times what it costs us to make," he said.

Sorenson shot back that Fusion-io is selling direct-attached storage, and so it needs the high capacity points; EMC is selling a caching product that's complementary to backend networked storage.

An EMC spokesperson said the company anticipates coming in at a "slightly lower price than Fusion-io," though she would not say how much the company will charge per card.

"We tip our hat to Fusion-io," Sorenson said. "They were first into the PCIe market. They've done a nice job, but the big boys are coming and they're coming with more well-thought-out solutions. I'm afraid some of the flash vendors will be relegated to a component that will commoditize over time."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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