Real Flash Storage Systems multi-task!

August 1, 2014

by Woody Hutsell, http://www.appICU.com

In the old days, real men didn’t eat broccoli and the storage solutions we implemented coped effectively with only a few related types of workload profiles. Those days are dead. Now, as data centers move toward virtualization and then extend virtualization into arenas such as the desktop while continuing to address traditional database workloads, storage must handle multiple requirements equally well. Disk can’t do it anymore. Flash can.

First, we must move beyond the concept that we implement storage solutions to solve individual application requirements. Instead, at every opportunity data center managers should be architecting and then implementing storage solutions capable of addressing multiple storage requirements. And even more, such a comprehensive storage solution must be cost effective when we buy it, yet possess additional capabilities that will enable both future growth and new business initiatives.

Certain flash products are a very good choice as do-more storage solutions. Others, not so much. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and inline deduplication offer insights into why IBM FlashSystem makes a very good choice to fill the multi-tasking role in your storage architecture.

Consider VDI. VDI seeks to eliminate hundreds to thousands of difficult to upgrade, manage, and secure desktops with a consolidated set of centralized servers and storage that are in turn easier to upgrade, manage, and secure. But here’s the key ingredient of a smarter data center: The infrastructure used to support VDI must be able to do more than implement VDI. The VDI workload has very high I/O density. While the I/O of a single physical desktop is easily handled with a fast HDD or small SSD, consolidating all of these desktops into a VDI creates extremely high I/O demands that are difficult to meet with typical hybrid SAN storage arrays. Principal causes of failed VDI installations include the costs and complexities of implementing storage to support it. A simplistic way to solve the problem is to buy an HDD or SSD for every virtualized desktop. This is expensive and inefficient, resulting in almost no practical cost savings versus the storage already in the desktop.

It turns out that VDI workloads benefit from inline deduplication. Whether the VDI is persistent or stateless, inline deduplication often results in a nearly 10x reduction in storage capacity needed. Inline deduplication works so well in VDI environments because the images needed for each virtual desktop are largely the same across desktops. Additionally, inline deduplication is effective at decreasing the capacity needed to store the unstructured files generated most often in a typical desktop environment.

Inline deduplication is essential to reducing the cost of large scale VDI. Inline deduplication, however, has a dark side: it dramatically increases the I/O density for VDI, making traditional storage arrays an incredibly poor choice for VDI. Before inline deduplication, the I/O density of VDI was not substantially different from the I/O density of the actual desktop.

Flash appliances are the best solution for handling the I/O density created by inline deduplication with VDI. Flash appliances are optimized for high I/O density workloads and bring an added benefit in that they tend to decrease the latency for data access, meaning the end user experience with flash as the storage media is likely to be even better than if users were getting data from a disk drive inside their desktop.

Data center managers have a choice to make: choose a storage architecture that creates an application silo or choose a storage architecture that can support multiple performance sensitive use cases. In fact, VDI is not the only application that benefits from flash appliances. The number one application for flash appliances is database acceleration. It is beneficial for the data center manager to pick a flash appliance that can truly multi-task, handling VDI workloads and database workloads with equal effectiveness. But, the capability to handle high I/O density is the number one requirement for VDI workloads, whereas extremely low latency is the number one requirement for database workloads.

At this point, the field of potential do-everything solutions narrows quickly. It just so happens that flash appliances with built-in deduplication are the worst choices for database acceleration. The inline deduplication that provides significant benefits for VDI provides almost no data reduction benefits for databases; instead the very process of deduplicating data is latency inducing, thus degrading database performance. For this reason, IBM with its FlashSystem appliance does not implement full-time, can’t be turned off, inline deduplication. This would be contrary to the trajectory of the data center toward virtualization, decreased silos, and ultimately storage solutions that do everything well.

In this way, IBM covers all the bases. FlashSystem offers the low latency, extreme performance, high availability, and fat bandwidth to serve very well as the foundational multi-tasking storage. Then, IBM offers a variety of ways that solutions for specific application requirements can easily be layered over the FlashSystem foundation. For example, IBM partners with Atlantis Computing to provide a best-of-breed solution for VDI. Atlantis Computing ILIO software executes within a virtual machine (VM), thus it does not require a server silo and provides compression and deduplication capabilities explicitly designed for VDI. A single FlashSystem appliance can serve up over one thousand volumes from its 40TB of protected capacity. The appropriate capacity is allocated for use with VDI and provides the I/O density and low latency that reduce the cost per desktop of VDI while improving the end user experience. Because even very large VDI implementations do not use 40TB of capacity, the remaining capacity of the IBM FlashSystem can be allocated to accelerating databases.

As the data center footprint of flash expands, FlashSystem is uniquely capable of supporting every workload with equal efficiency. With the economics of flash already past the tipping point, data center managers should be looking at long term strategies for replacing performance HDD with flash appliances. Creating silos that only handle a single storage challenge such as VDI will waste multiple opportunities to increase overall data center storage performance and efficiency while at the same time lowering storage costs. Implementing smarter, highly capable FlashSystem storage enables data center managers to address multiple storage challenges today, while empowering growth and innovation in the future.

Learn more about using flash to handle multiple workloads at the upcoming Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara and VMworld in San Francisco! I will be at both events and hope to see you there. To learn more about the work IBM is doing with Atlantis Computing, please visit the IBM FlashSystem EcoSystem website.


IBM V840: The way “Software Defined Storage” should be done

April 17, 2014

by Woody Hutselll, http://www.appICU.com

The phrase “software defined storage” burst into the storage marketing lexicon in seemingly less time than the data access latency of a good SSD. Unless you were born yesterday, you saw it happen. Solid state storage vendors piled on the bandwagon, most of them leaping by the most convenient route. But IBM has taken a more reasoned, and seasoned, approach, resulting in a software defined storage solution that captures the benefits originally imagined in the phrase, without resorting to some quick-time-to-market strategies.

One of the more fascinating stories to me in the last two years has been the rapid adoption of the phrase: “software defined storage.” Here for your viewing pleasure is a Google Trends view:

Image

The mainstream use of the term software defined storage started in August 2012 with the launch of the Fusion ION Data Accelerator. Within a few months every major and minor storage vendor was labeling their solution as software defined storage, including companies with solutions as different as Nexenta, NetApp, and IBM.

While researching for this blog, I came across a nice blog post by a fellow IBMer that casts additional light on the idea of software defined storage. I love that IDC created a software defined storage Taxonomy in April 2013. Can you believe it? From creation as a phrase, to requiring a taxonomy in less than eight months. If you are reading this, you can count yourself as having been along for the ride as this phrase started to infiltrate storage marketing.

As I explore the meaning of software defined storage, I will use a really basic definition that I think allows everyone to jump on the bandwagon:

Software-defined storage involves running storage services (such as replication, snapshots, tiering, virtualization and data reduction) on a server platform.

No wonder everyone can claim to be in the software defined storage business. Count IBM and its SAN Volume Controller (SVC) with over 10 years in the industry as a pioneer in this category. Certainly NetApp, Nexenta, and others belong as well. For years the storage industry has been migrating the delivery of storage services from custom-architected hardware to commodity server hardware. In doing so, vendors gain lower cost hardware, a faster time to market, and the advantage of using industry standard and open source software components. This isn’t to say the solutions aren’t differentiated; they are on the basis of their feature sets, but they are not significantly differentiated based on the hardware of their solution.

The introduction of all-Flash appliances into the product mix provided a real test of the capability of software defined storage. I remember IBM talking about project Quicksilver in 2008. Quicksilver used IBM SVC. The results were impressive and showed that software defined solutions could scale to IOPS levels required by the enterprise. Since that time nearly every Flash product brought to market could be labelled software defined storage: Intel server platform, Linux OS, software storage stack like SCST/LIO, HBAs/NICs, third party SSDs, and software for storage services. Storage has become integration and tuning rather than engineering. This approach to system design leaves a lot to be desired. Are the OS’s, storage stacks, RAID, enclosures, or HBAs all really designed for Flash? No, actually. The integration happens only in the minds of the marketers, unless you count the SAS link that connects the server to the storage enclosure or subsystem.

Instead, IBM has taken a novel approach to the Flash market, recognizing that producing extreme performance requires custom hardware, while also acknowledging that offering rich storage services is best accomplished with software defined storage. This recognition led IBM to offer a brand new solution called the FlashSystem V840 Enterprise Performance Solution. The software side of the equation is driven by IBM’s extensive experience building actual, integrated software defined storage solutions. The hardware side of the equation, rather than being a potpourri of third party stuff, is a custom-engineered Flash storage system (the IBM FlashSystem 840). On the software side, the software defined storage control modules have been purposely developed with data paths that substantially reduce the latency impact of most storage services. In fact, the FlashSystem V840 achieves latency for data accesses from Flash as low as 200 microseconds.

For a minute, let’s contrast the FlashSystem V840 with the attributes of nearly every competing Flash appliance offering:

Typical storage enclosure

  • Third Party MLC/eMLC SSDs
  •      No SSD-level data protection
  •      Inexpensive processors as Flash controllers
  •      SAS-connected
  • Limited density and scalability due to form factor
  • Off the shelf HBAs as interface controllers
  • Software RAID and over-provisioning provided by the control enclosures

FlashSystem 840

  • IBM designed FlashSystem Flash Modules
  • IBM patented Variable Stripe RAID™ protects performance/availability even with cell, layer, or chip failures
  • IBM engineered PowerPC processors combined with FPGAs as Flash controllers
  • High speed proprietary interconnect
  • High density and highly scalable
  • IBM engineered interface controllers
  • Optimized for low latency and high IOPS
  • IBM engineered hardware RAID controllers
  • Optimized for low latency and high IOPS with FPGAs as RAID controllers.

All of this discussion about proprietary hardware may have users worried about vendor lock-in and creating silos of data, however, the FlashSystem V840, with its storage virtualization feature, enables data center managers to break vendor lock-in by virtualizing heterogeneous third party arrays behind the FlashSytem V840 taking advantage of its feature rich set of storage services.

The choice of third party SSDs combined with software defined RAID architectures pushes storage processing work from the storage enclosure to the control enclosures. The problem is that these storage processing tasks are processor intensive (taking up threads and cores from what are already limited processors). The net result is that the control enclosures, without running any desirable storage services, are already burdened because they are performing functions that are best off-loaded to the storage enclosure. Combine this with the proven inefficiency of software RAID and the result is the terrible performance metrics we see from IBM’s Flash appliance competitors. Look closely at write IOPS performance and you will clearly see the deleterious effect of software RAID on performance. Try adding storage services to these control enclosures and you understand why the other Flash appliances on the market are not feature rich. Except by adding additional processors, they cannot add more features without cratering their already terrible performance.

In the case of the IBM FlashSystem V840, the storage enclosure functions as a high performance processing offload engine, freeing the control enclosures to do what they do best – implement storage services. The resulting solution delivers industry leading latency, IOPS, and bandwidth with a much more scalable solution.

Software defined storage may have its place, but only if done well. Abandoning effective hardware/software integration just for the chance to save on engineering seems like a terrible choice for all-Flash appliances. IBM has taken a different tack, purposely engineering and integrating a software defined storage solution that offers all the benefits, without resorting to the short-cuts that most storage vendors have used to get there.

To learn more about IBM and Software Defined Storage make sure and attend Edge2014.


Reaching the Summit

January 17, 2014

Reaching the Summit
Woody Hutsell, AppICU

If you’ve worked for a small company you know making progress sometimes happens in baby steps. You deal with constrained resources. You deal with hasty or delayed decisions. You just deal with reality. We went through seven or so generations of RAM based SSD systems at TMS before we got to a solution I considered the pinnacle of achievement, the RamSan-440. It combined performance and reliability features that were the class of the industry. Even a year after flash solutions were released by TMS, I still recommended the RamSan-440 despite its higher cost per capacity.

You almost have to have been intimate to the all flash array business since its inception in 2007 to fully appreciate this next comment, but if you were and/or still are you will understand. Since the RamSan-500 and earliest competitor systems there has been a product engineering battle raging between competitors to develop the ultimate single box highly available all flash solution. Single box HA solutions are desirable for their improved density, performance, power and cost to deploy and support. This was a battle that could only be engaged by companies with real hardware engineering talent (a talent missing from most all-flash players today). For years, Tier 0 all flash arrays had to be deployed with 2x the capacity for 1x the usable capacity because of a range of issues including: lack of full redundancy in components, lack of hot swap components, lack of easy access to hot swap components and the inability of systems to have firmware upgrades without requiring downtime. These deficits resulted in a creative mix of deployment architectures to resolve the issue some more elegantly than others. Each product iteration has gotten us measurably closer to summiting this peak but not reached the peak. Similar issues surround competitor products with some farther behind than others. The achievement in the FlashSystem 840 is that it has reached the summit. I could not be happier with the product team who defined this product or the development team that brought it to market.

For more information on the FlashSystem 840, which IBM just announced yesterday, I encourage you to visit: http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/data/flash/storage/infographic/flash-data-center-optimized.html


What a long strange year it’s been

December 18, 2013

Woody Hutsell, AppICU

Flash back one year ago.  I was working at Fusion-io on a software defined storage solution with some of the brightest minds in the industry.  Fusion-io was flying high reaching over $100 million in quarterly revenue.  David Flynn, Rick White, Jim Dawson were leading one of the most talented teams I have been around.  There are still really talented people at Fusion-io, but take away Rick White (heart), David Flynn (mind) and Jim Dawson (soul) and you have just another company.  A company still bringing in some real revenue by the way and continuing to dominate in PCI Flash.  Their relationship with my employer, IBM, is still strong.  If I were buying PCI Flash for Intel servers, they would still be my first choice.

I left Fusion-io at the end of March to go back home, literally and figuratively.  I loved working at Fusion-io, but traveling from my home in Houston to Salt Lake City/San Jose twice per month was not great fun.  More importantly, IBM had closed its acquisition of Texas Memory Systems and my friends, co-workers and family were encouraging me to come back.  The idea of being with a company of IBM’s capability, picking up where I left off with my first solid state storage baby (the RamSan), and working with friends and family less than two miles from home was too much to pass up.  I could feel the excitement from the TMSers who were now IBMers and saw that IBM was out to win in the all flash array category.  Did someone say a billion dollar investment in flash?  Makes the $150 million for Pure Storage look like pocket change.

My initial conversations with the IBM team, pre-joining, validated this feeling I was getting.   IBM had brought the best and was basing many of them in Houston.  As important to me, was seeing that many of the other talented people who had left TMS in the years prior to the acquisition were returning including friends who had great roles at Oracle and HP.

If history has taught us anything related to the solid state storage industry, the fate of companies rises and falls on the strength of their relationships with the big companies in the industry.  STEC made the first big splash locking up OEM deals for Zeus-IOPS.  Fusion-io made the next big splash in the PCI Flash space locking up OEM deals for ioDrives and ioScale.  Violin had their first big peak on the back of a short-lived relationship with HP.  All of these company’s fortunes have surged, and at times collapsed, from these relationships.  It only made sense to me then that the one thing better than being OEM’d by the big company was being the big company; and so far I am right.

So here we are at the end of 2013.  I think 2013 will be seen as the year that the all flash array market finally took off generating the real revenues that have been anticipated for years.

2014 will witness the bifurcation of the all flash array market that Jeff Janukowicz at IDC first called out in a research report a couple of years ago creating real separation from products that are focused on “absolute performance” and those focused on the “enterprise.”  In some ways this is a bit like talking about the market that is and the market that could be.  Today, the majority of all flash array purchases in the enterprise are used for database acceleration (bare-metal or virtual). These workloads, more so than many others, especially benefit from absolute performance systems and notably do not benefit from inline data deduplication.  Curiously, the venture backed companies in the market are almost exclusively focused on the enterprise feature rich category.  Even Violin, who once had a credible offering in this category, has chosen an architectural path that moves them away from the absolute performance segment of the market.  The company with the most compelling solution in this category (in my clearly biased opinion) is IBM with its FlashSystem product.  I have for at least a decade heard the industry characterizing the RamSan and now the FlashSystem as the Ferrari of flash arrays. What our competitors have discovered along the way is that performance is the first cut at most customer sites and beyond that FlashSystem brings a much better economic solution because of its low latency, high density and low power consumption.

Does this mean IBM doesn’t have a play in the all-flash enterprise category?  Stay tuned.  It’s not 2014 yet.  In fact, mark your calendars for the years’ first big announcement webcast bit.ly/SCJanWebcast

And really, did you even think that thought.  IBM has the broadest flash portfolio in the industry.  IBM has clearly said that the market is approaching a tipping point, a point where the economic benefits of flash outweigh its higher cost.  This tipping point will lead to the all-flash data center.  And nobody understands the data center better than IBM.

I am looking forward to an eventful 2014.  Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

Woody


Power and PCI flash, the performance balancing act!

October 9, 2013

Woody Hutsell, http://www.appICU.com

Amidst a slew of other IBM announcements yesterday was IBM’s launch of the Flash Adapter 90 for AIX and Linux based Power Systems environments.  Flash Adapter 90 is a PCIe flash solution that accelerates performance and eliminates the bottleneck for latency sensitive, IO intensive applications.  Enterprise application environments such as transaction processing (OLTP) and analytics (OLAP) benefit by having high performance Power processors balanced against equally high performance PCIe flash.   This type of balance thereby, increases server productivity, application productivity, and user productivity to drive a more efficient business.

The Flash Adapter 90 is full-height and half-length PCI Gen 2 providing 900GB of usable eMLC flash capacity.  Flash Adapter 90 is a native flash solution without the bottlenecks common to other PCI flash solutions and uses on-adapter processing and metadata to lessen the impact on server RAM and processing.   Up to four of the adapters can be used inside supported Power servers.

In a recent article “Flash fettlers Fusion-io scoop IBM as reseller partner”, Chris Mellor observed that IBM’s recent decision to launch Fusion ioScale based IBM Flash Adapters Enterprise Value for System x® solutions was evidence that IBM had abandoned the PCI flash technology that IBM received when they acquired Texas Memory Systems.  The Flash Adapter 90 product launch demonstrates that IBM has not discarded this technology, merely waited for the perfect time and perfect platform to bring it to market.  IBM has consistently demonstrated a desire to meet client needs whether that involves engaging IBM R&D to develop solutions, such as the Flash Adapter 90, or bringing in industry standard components.

Flash Adapter 90 brings IBM patented Variable Stripe RAID technology and enterprise performance to the Power Systems client base who have anxiously awaited a solution with a driver tuned to take advantage of AIX and Linux operating systems.  Power Systems are acknowledged as the world’s fastest servers and now have a bit of world’s fastest storage to create an unbeatable combination of processor and storage for accelerating business critical  applications.  Along the way, IBM tested the combined solution with IBM’s Identity Insight for DB2, demonstrating IBM’s ability to combine multiple products from application to server to storage for a consistent predictable client experience.  This combination of products showed performance superior to other tested configurations yet at a much lower cost per solution.

With this announcement, IBM offers its Power Systems clients more choice in deciding what flash storage they will use to accelerate their application.  Power System clients can consume flash from IBM in any manner that best suits their data center or application environment structure.  Clients may choose from IBM FlashSystem, IBM Flash Adapter 90, EXP 30 Ultra SSD Drawers (a direct-attach storage solution) in addition to a host of other IBM System Storage products.  For applications or client architectures that are server-centric, i.e. use server scale-out/clustering for reliability, the Flash Adapter 90 is a low cost method for delivering outstanding application performance.  Applications based on DB2 and Oracle databases are excellent candidates for acceleration.

Long live the Flash Adapter 90.

More information on IBM Power Systems flash options can be found at:  http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/power/hardware/peripherals/ssd/index.html


Server-Side Caching

January 20, 2012

Woody Hutsell, http://www.appICU.com

Fusion-io recently posted this blog that I wrote:   http://www.fusionio.com/blog/why-server-side-caching-rocks/

I feel strongly that 2011 will be remembered, at least in the SSD industry, for establishing the role of server-side caching using Flash.  I recall soaking in all of the activity at last year’s Flash Memory Summit and being excited about the new ways Flash was being applied to solve customer problems.  It is a great time to be in the market.  I look forward to sharing more of the market’s evolution with you.

 

 


Flash Memory Summit Presentation

September 6, 2011

Woody Hutsell, www.appICU.com

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to a presentation that I delivered at the 2011 Flash Memory Summit on “Mission Critical Computing with SSD”.

http://www.flashmemorysummit.com/English/Collaterals/Proceedings/2011/20110810_T1B_Hutsell.pdf

 


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