EMC unveils all-SSD array, one app to manage all flash

Releases software to manage flash across the data center

EMC today released its first, purpose-build, all-solid state drive (SSD) array that is based on its XtremIO acquisition last year, as well as new software that identifies server flash throughout a data center and allows it to be managed under one interface.

Additionally, EMC has released six new PCIe flash cards for use in data center servers.

XtremeIO all-SSD array

Referred to as "Project X" prior to its release today, EMC's all-SSD XtremIO Array is based on a clustered architecture, allowing multiple SSD modules to be added, increasing performance and capacity linearly, said Josh Goldstein, vice president of marketing and product management for EMC's XtremIO unit.

Unlike EMC's current all-flash appliances, which are filled with PCIe cards (i.e. Project Thunder), the new XtremIO Array uses serial ATA (SATA) SSDs, which come in a 2.5-in. hard-drive form factor. None of the hardware is proprietary, Goldstien said, allowing EMC to keep data center integration capabilities higher. The SATA SSDs, like SAS SSDs, are dual ported for resiliency.

Using random 4KB blocks, a single XtremIO Array node can achieve 250,000 read- and 100,000 write-IOPS, Goldstein said.

EMC's XtremIO all-SSD array

"We precondition the arrays before we recorded the performance numbers," Goldstein said. "We fill the array nearly to capacity with data to simulate a flash system that you're already overwriting with data. This is a much more stringent test the new arrays will undergo."

Along with high performance, the XtremIO array comes native with automated thin provisioning capabilities, which means volume sizes can automatically expand as an application may need. The thin provisioning is also granular in that volumes can expand in 4KB blocks to ensure thrifty use of flash capacity, Goldstein said.

The array comes with inline data deduplication, which means an algorithm checks to ensure data sets being stored to the array is not the same as content already there. "The only thing being written to flash on the XtremIO system are unique I/O blocks," Goldstein said.

For data protection, XtremIO has a proprietary algorithm that is similar to RAID 6 (capable of protecting data with up to two flash card failures), but with the performance of RAID 1, Goldstein said.

The XtremIO array is built on a scale-out architecture not dissimilar to EMC's Isilon scale-out NAS array.

The new arrays are being marketed for use with applications requiring extremely high levels of random I/O performance, such as such as OLTP databases, server virtualization and VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure).

The SSD array offers sub-millisecond latency, fully random transaction patterns with all data services enabled and operating while filled nearly to capacity.

EMC's all SSD-array announcement follows a similar one by NetApp last month. NetApp announced the EF540 all-flash array, also a purpose-build, all-SSD array.

New PCIe flash cards

Along with all the new product releases, EMC also announced it was changing all of its flash product names so that they would all come under the EMC Xtreme Family mantle. Accordingly, its VFCache PCIe flash card line for servers will now be called XtremSF cards.

EMC announced six new XtremSF cards that include four enterprise-class multi-level cell (eMLC)-based cards and two single-cell level (SLC) cards. All of the PCIe cards are in half-height, half-length form factors.

The eMLC cards come in capacities of 550GB, 700GB 1.4TB and 2.2TB. The SLC cards come in 350GB and 700GB capacities.

XtremSF server flash card

The new XtremSF server flash cards offer up to 1.13 million I/Os per second performance using 128KB blocks and deliver two times throughput of their predecessors with eight PCIe I/O lanes. Using 4KB and 8KB block sizes, the flash cards offer up to 200,000 and 120,000 IOPS, respectively, according to Barry Ader, an EMC senior director of product management.

XtremSF server flash card performance chart

The new flash cards also reduce server CPU utilization by as much as 50%, because the flash controller handles the flash management functions instead of the server chip.

"They are twice as fast as anything else in the marketplace," Adder said.

Flash management suite

Along with a new SSD array and PCIe flash cards, EMC announced that later this year it will be releasing new software that can discover NAND flash in a data center and bring it under a single management interface.

The XtremSW Suite works with either MLC or SLC-based flash, and can offer the ability to pool resources. The software suite will offer advanced data services for flash to be used as memory and DAS, Ader said.

The software will also allow the flash cards to be used in conjunction with a storage area network (SAN) to boost performance.

Mark Peters, an analyst with research firm ESG, said it is the software that sets EMC's announcement apart from other NAND flash-based hardware, such as NetApp's all-SSD array or server flash cards from FusionIO. Vendors regularly leapfrog each other with the performance of their storage systems, he said.

"Much as there is a lot of brand loyalty in enterprise storage, the game will ultimately be won and lost on software, not hardware, which is why the two most critical parts of this announcement in my view .... [is] the XtremIO Software Suite ... and the fact that XtremIO is essentially a software platform and does not demand proprietary hardware," Peters said.

Steve Duplessie, founder and lead analyst at ESG, agreed, saying that users need to think about a portfolio-approach to flash -- in the server, in the array, or as an all-flash array -- using intelligent software to leverage those assets.

"EMC has had this philosophy since it first entered the flash game, and hasn't wavered," Duplessie said.

XtremSF 550GB and 2.2TB eMLC capacities are available globally, and the 700GB and 1.4TB capacities will be available in the second quarter of 2013. EMC said it will extend the XtremSF family with even higher capacity offerings in the future.

EMC offered no pricing on any of its products.

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.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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