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EMC ramps up flash game with VFCache, 'Thunder' appliance

Stephen Lawson | Feb. 6, 2012
EMC is now shipping its long-awaited entry in the server-based flash storage market while laying the groundwork for a future appliance based on the same technology.

In addition to integrating its PCIe flash products with the FAST system that works across its other storage products, EMC has brought greater manageability to the market under the umbrella of its existing management software, Sorenson said. He downplayed the value of PCIe cards by themselves, saying the best architecture for general enterprises will continue to be a hybrid of fast flash and cheaper, higher-capacity HDDs.

"We don't see the price points of flash and spinning disk crossing, probably, in your or my lifetime," Sorenson said.

By using flash cards as cache in hybrid architectures, EMC could make the technology more useful to the average enterprise, Forrester Research analyst Andrew Reichman said. Fusion-io's weak spot is data protection and management, which the company's big Web customers can handle better than a typical IT shop, Reichman said. In its most recent reported quarter, Fusion-io said 57 percent of its revenue came from Facebook and Apple.

"If you're Facebook, and you've got an army of developers, and you can figure out how to protect the data and write your own code to be aware of where the data is ... then that makes sense," Reichman said. For general enterprises, less so, he said.

However, EMC's tiering system, FAST, is only now coming into maturity, he added.

Because of its size, EMC also may be better able to educate the market about flash cards, ultimately helping Fusion-io, which in any case probably won't lose its major customers to EMC, he said.

The company's size may also give a boost to Thunder, a concept that's similar to past products that haven't found a large market, Reichman said. Thunder could be useful for clusters of servers sharing a set of data, he said.

Fusion-io sees itself as a neutral party selling flash cards that can be used in conjunction with anyone's storage arrays, and EMC as the equivalent of a mainframe vendor trying to lock in its SAN customers. The larger player is threatened, said David Flynn, Fusion-io's president and CEO.

"We have replaced many a SAN out there, and I think this is their response to that erosion, because the market is shifting," Flynn said.

VFCache is available now. EMC did not disclose pricing but said it would be competitive. The unnamed Thunder product is scheduled to reach the first test customers in April.


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