Souped-up storage: An all-SSD array debuts

Violin Memory’s arrays promise huge performance increases with an eye toward virtualization

SSD (solid-state drive) flash memory adoption in the data center has been hampered by high cost, but on the technical side the biggest obstacle has been legacy technology. In order to give customers something familiar and easy to swap out, big storage companies made their flash-based arrays look, feel, and act like disk drives -- and they tied those arrays to controllers designed for disk drives. These controllers became severe performance bottlenecks; they weren't built to handle the performance SSD can offer, so users couldn't put more than a handful of SSDs inside a legacy storage box without the controller eating up performance gains.

But newer companies see the "two steps forward/one step back" legacy approach as creating an opportunity for all-flash arrays that truly leverage the performance capabilities of SSDs. And some of these companies have designed 100 percent flash arrays from the ground up and no ties to legacy systems, thus avoiding bottlenecks like mismatched controllers.

Violin Memory is one such company, and its new offering, the Violin 6000-series memory arrays, boasts some serious performance. The company claims that a single Violin 6000 rack containing 10 arrays can do 10 million IOPS (input/output operations per second), the same as 40 racks of traditional storage containing a total of 9,600 disks. That works out to an 80 percent reduction in cost per IOPS and a 15:1 reduction in physical consolidation of hardware. The arrays also address flash's memory cell wear issue (a flash memory cell can only be written to so many times before it stops working) by including an algorithm that ensures that cells are rewritten to only after all new cells are used. Violin claims this lets its flash memory last as long as a standard disk drive.

The downside? Violin doesn't offer features like snapshots, replication, mirroring, and vaulting. Instead Violin's play is pure performance for situations where those features aren't critical.

Violin's best-use case is virtualization. As companies virtualize their servers, they're bumping up against a problem of simple I/O capacity: With so many machines making so many randomized demands on the server, performance suffers. In fact, this has been a major reason why companies don't want to virtualize. They can't afford to lose performance in their mission-critical apps. But Violin's flash array directly addresses that problem with its gaudy IOPS numbers, giving companies a path to virtualization that doesn't require performance compromises or adding a bunch of new hardware.

This story, "Souped-up storage: An all-SSD array debuts," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.