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EMC launches 'Project Lightning' PCIe cards

Lucas Mearian | Feb. 6, 2012
EMC today announced the availability of its 'Project Lightning' PCIe flash cards, dubbed VFCache, which install into application servers to increase I/O performance.

EMC today launched its long-awaited "Project Lightning," now called the VFCache product line, an initiative to sell PCIe-based NAND flash cards for servers as a caching element to increase I/O performance by up to 4,000 times.

The company also announced "Project Thunder," which in the second quarter will have EMC selling appliances filled with 15TB or more of PCIe-based NAND flash storage. The appliances will be connected to server farms through the InfiniBand network protocol. The appliances will hold five, 10 or 15 PCIe cards, according to EMC.

"You can think of it as a big, sharable, scalable VFCache card," said Mark Sorenson, senior vice president of EMC's Flash Business Unit. "We're talking hundreds of millions of [I/Os per second]."

VFCache cards are based on high-end, single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash as opposed to more popular multi-level cell (MLC) flash, which has higher capacity points but natively lower performance and endurance.

Currently, EMC also sells solid-state drives (SSDs) in a 2.5-in form factor using a SAS interface in its storage arrays. Sorenson said the company will transition this year to MLC-based SSDs in its arrays, which are less expensive and -- when combined with special firmware -- can achieve enterprise-class endurance levels.

Today, EMC announced it has shipped over 24 petabytes of NAND flash capacity through its array sales, which represents an 800% growth rate from 2009 to 2011.

EMC's new VFCache PCIe cards, which are primarily being supplied to EMC by Micron Technology , will come in 300GB capacities; Sorenson said EMC expects to ship 700GB cards this summer, though he believes 300GB is "the sweet spot."

VFCache card sales, which will be offered by EMC and through channel partners, will be focused on read-intensive application servers, as might be found in Oracle and SQL databases, Sharepoint or even Exchange environments.

Sorenson made it clear that the flash cards should not be thought of as primary storage, which is more data-write intensive and should be left to EMC's networked storage arrays. The cards are NAND flash cache.

EMC is reselling a version of Micron's P320h product in a half-height, half-length form factor. It has a maximum sequential read performance of 3.2GB/sec using 128K blocks. It can generate up to 715,000 IOPS using 4K random blocks, according to EMC.

Micron's P320h SSD.

VFCache cards install into a server's standard PCIe slot, and come with a filter driver that runs in the host server. As the host issues an I/O operation, the VFCache driver intercepts it, checks the table in its memory as to what data is in the cache, and if the data is on the flash memory it serves that I/O read request from the server; If the data is not in cache memory, the driver sends a read or write request through the storage area network to an EMC storage array.


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