Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

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Fusion-io Buys Hybrid Startup NexGen

Yesterday PCIe flash card market leader Fusion-io announced it was acquiring hybrid storage array startup NexGen. Coincidentally, we in the Storage Field Day 3 crew were scheduled to visit NexGen the next morning. Most companies would have blanched at the thought of having a dozen storage geeks armed with video cameras roaming around at the kick-off of a strategic acquisition, but Fusion-io went all in. The company flew CEO David Flynn up from Salt Lake City, and he opened the kimono about Fusion-io's near-term plans.

The big news from our session with Flynn and NexGen's former CEO (now division GM) John Spiers is that Fusion-io will change NexGen's business model. Instead of selling storage appliances, Fusion-io will sell NexGen's software to system integrators, who can combine it with industry-standard servers.

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This model provides two significant advantages to end users. First, the end users don't have to pay the multiple markups as a storage vendor buys drives from Seagate or WD, and the system then moves through the supply chain from distributor to VAR. Now the VAR can buy bare drives from a distributor at a much lower price.

The second, and potentially bigger, advantage is that integrating the system closer to the customer lets the integrator adjust the amount of CPU, flash and spinning disks in each system to the particular customer's needs. Customers running applications where performance is important might have 4 Tbytes of flash and 10 Tbytes of disk, while others that use the system for user home directories could have 400 Gbytes of flash and 50 Tbytes of disk.

The problem for vendors that have tried the software model, including Open-E and Starwind, is that they simply can't charge enough for their software to be consistently profitable. Fusion-io has a solution. While Fusion-io will sell the NexGen software to integrators for use with a wider range of server platforms than the Storage Bride Bay-based appliance they use now, it will still require a Fusion-io flash card in each controller. This will allow Fusion-io to get enough money from each sale to make the process worthwhile.

Of course, the open question is whether the midmarket customers for whom NexGen's technology is a good fit will want to buy a storage system that's "Powered by Fusion-io" as opposed to one that just has a NexGen label.

Storage QoS

NexGen, along with companies such as TinTri, Tegile and Starboard Storage, has been delivering a flash-optimized hybrid storage system that uses Fusion-io's PCIe flash cards as its performance tier. NexGen's claim to fame, in addition to efficient hybrid storage with basic data deduplication, has been its early support for storage QoS.

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As I've blogged in the past, storage QoS is growing more important as we combine more and more workloads into a smaller number of storage devices. A typical hybrid storage system, especially one that relies on sub-LUN tiering, will give higher and higher levels of performance to applications based on the number of IOPS and the amount of data they access.

However, the fact that a given workload demands a lot of storage performance doesn't necessarily correlate to how much performance that application deserves relative to other applications. QoS lets storage administrators assign classes of service to LUNs so the important applications get the highest level of performance. From a practical standpoint, it means things like a user running a content search across terabytes of Word documents won't slow down the ERP system.

All Tech Field Day sessions are streamed live and available for viewing later via YouTube and/or Vimeo. If you want more details about NexGen's technology, or to see David Flynn's presentation from this morning you can see the video. You can also see NexGen's presentation from Storage Field Day 2.

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