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Howard Marks
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Flash Vendors Acquire the Cache

Samsung’s acquisition of caching vendor NVELO hints that SDD caching may be moving from servers to desktops.

The market for flash memory caching and management software continues to heat up. Over a dozen vendors are shipping products, and this week's announcement that South Korean electronics giant Samsung was buying NVELO is just the latest in a series of acquisitions in this area. Others include Intel's quiet purchase of Canadian startup Nevex and SanDisk's acquisition of FlashSoft in February.

While most vendors target the server market, NVELO's Dataplex aims at speeding up desktops running Windows or Linux. In this smaller market, NVELO was joined by Intel, which bundled its Smart Response Technology (SRT) driver with the enthusiast-oriented Z68 PC chipset and ExpressCache from Condusiv, the software vendor best known for its Diskeeper defragger. Apple's Fusion Drive, while it uses a mixture of tiering and caching (as I discussed in a previous post) also boosts desktop storage capacity and performance.

While both Dataplex and ExpressCache can theoretically use any SSD for their cache, both NVELO and Condusiv have brought them to market through OEM bundles with SSD vendors. OCZ's Synapse and the Adrenaline caching SSD from Micron's Crucial division come bundled with Dataplex, while SanDisk's ReadyCache uses ExpressCache. Curiously, SanDisk decided to OEM ExpressCache rather than strip down its own FlashSoft server caching software.

As I blogged at DeepStorage.net, I decided to go with an SSD cache solution when I built my latest desktop PC. My initial configuration used the native Intel SRT caching driver. While I was pleased with the performance of my new machine, I was also buried with work, so I haven't gotten around to the benchmarking I had planned to do. My new plan is to have an assistant test ExpressCache and Dataplex against each other on a spare PC in the lab, so I will eventually have some real data to share.

Samsung and NVELO haven't revealed any financial details of the deal, other than to state that it included all of NVELO's technology and personnel. NVELO was born as a spinoff from Denali Software, which made design software for chip vendors when Denali was acquired by Cadence Design Systems in 2010. Cadence had an equity stake in NVELO and put up around $5 million in seed capital when NVELO was founded.

This deal advances the trend of the raw flash vendors (Toshiba, Samsung, SK Hynix, SanDisk and the Intel/Micron joint venture IMFT) moving up market, from the low-margin, boom-and-bust chip drive market to SSDs and beyond. In addition to actively marketing its consumer and data center SSDs, and now Dataplex, Samsung has also invested in the all-solid-state array vendor Pure Storage.

I expect we'll see a Samsung caching SSD bundle like Crucial's Adrenaline hit the market as soon as the dust settles and the marketing folks can come up with a catchy name like 847++. The open questions include:

• Will Samsung bring out a server version of Dataplex?

• Will OEMs like OCZ and Micron/Crucial choose to buy from a competitor and stick with Dataplex, or switch to another caching solution?

• When will a mainstream PC vendor include this technology the way Apple bundled Fusion Drive?

Only time will tell if flash caching will take over the desktop. I for one will stay tuned.

Howard Marks is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage ... View Full Bio
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