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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.

Sorenson said VFCache has not been qualified to operate with other vendors' storage arrays, but there's no reason it shouldn't. It is, however, optimized to work with EMC storage, he said. "There's no vendor lock-in with this product.

Sorenson also suggested that the new PCIe cards are not well suited for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and server virtualization environments, saying those operations are best served by networked storage arrays."

"VDI is OK to use with this, but there are typically more writes in that environment than are optimum for this," he said. "With virtual environments, it depends on the use case and the application running in that environment."

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 -- actually becomes an I/O bottleneck for virtual environments.

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.


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