Earlier this year, Gelsinger hinted that EMC might be working with Intel, already an EMC development partner, to create the cards. Last week, however, he refused to name the technology partner on the Lightning Project.
EMC plans to make the PCIe card generally available by the end of this year or early next year. The company has the cards in beta testing with a few customers.
While the technology behind NAND flash-based PCIe cards is anything but simple, the idea behind them is easy to understand: The closer high-performance storage gets to a server's CPU, thereby avoiding the bottleneck on a storage network, the faster application data can be processed.
PCIe cards are used for low-latency, high-availability applications, such as online transaction processing and trading environments.
In June, Intel development partner Micron began selling its first PCIe flash card, the RealSSD P320h. That card comes in 350GB and 700GB capacities. But Gelsinger didn't mention Intel when talking about potential competitors in the PCIe flash card space. Instead, he focused on early industry leader Fusion-io.
"Why would they buy a Lightning [PCIe card] versus a Fusion-io? There's a value proposition when we talk to customers ... particularly for the enterprise customer," he said, explaining that users want hardware in their servers that is tightly integrated with the storage in their back end.
"It doesn't back up? It doesn't fit into the rest of my infrastructure? I don't have resilience with this? It doesn't have any connection to my storage environment? Those become very fundamental issues," Gelsinger continued. "What we said with Lightning is we'll solve those issues while delivering a very high-performance card that's very comparable to what Fusion-io does."
EMC's PCIe flash cards will become a virtual part of EMC's current Fully Automated Storage Tiering architecture, a software tool that automatically moves data among disk drive types in an array based on how frequently it's accessed. For example, highly accessed data would be moved to solid state drives (SSDs), while the least frequently accessed data would be migrated to slower, high-capacity serial ATA (SATA) drives.
"We've just extended it into the [server]. So you'll have persistence, backup, replication, deduplication, snapshots, [disaster recovery]. I get all the benefits of Fusion-io, and all the value proposition that fits into storage," he said.
EMC didn't want to break up with Dell
EMC has been moving downstream in the marketplace over the past several years, providing lower-end systems for small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs), most recently with its VNXe array, which has a starting price of under $10,000. As EMC moved downstream, and its biggest reseller partner Dell moved upstream, competition became heated.
Earlier this week, Dell announced that it ended its 10-year reseller partnership with EMC, which at one time brought in as much as 50 percent of Dell's storage revenue while also being very lucrative for EMC.
Gelsinger said EMC management, and he personally, worked "extremely" hard to find a model to continue its reseller relationship with Dell, even though the revenue it gained through the partnership as of late was "de minimis." EMC in its second quarter this year saw only about $50 million in revenue from Dell resales, compared with EMC's $13 billion storage business. But he said the partnership couldn't have been better orchestrated.