Fusion-io announced the Ion Data Accelerator software, its entry into the all-solid-state array market, Monday. The software, combined with an industry-standard server and one or more of Fusion's IoDrives, will create a storage area network (SAN) all-solid-state array. This is an important development because it allows data centers to share expensive server-centric PCIe flash drives across an entire network of physical and virtual servers.
Last year, Fusion acquired IoTurbine, which had an initial software product that provided write-through read cache functionality to servers that could keep hot data close to the server and virtual machines within it, while only accessing shared storage for colder data not retained in the cache. Prior to the acquisition, IoTurbine had plans for a more capable virtualization layer, and the Ion software represents the next generation of that capability along with Fusion's well-developed server software stack that manages flash memory and lowers the hardware cost of Fusion-io's IoDrives.
Fusion has been criticized because of its heavyweight, proprietary software drivers, but the Ion system, if anything, validates that approach. Because Fusion has not developed a bunch of proprietary silicon to perform flash management, it has been able to develop a wide variety of form factors for its PCIe cards that fit into the latest Cisco, Dell, and HP blade servers, as well as all of the other server form factors.
It can easily be argued that, as servers become cheaper and more powerful with the latest generation of silicon, like Intel's Sandy Bridge, the CPU cycles attributed to the heavy drivers become less and less significant. This relieves Fusion-io of having to maintain a large pile of proprietary silicon, and reduces the cost of goods within its PCIe products. This has long been the vision of Fusion's top management: software is cheaper and more agile than silicon.
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Fusion-io has been vulnerable to flash foundry-owner entrants, such as Intel and Samsung, into the PCIe drive market. In a little over a year, Micron, Intel, and SanDisk have entered the market with very capable products at low costs. Fusion-io has consistently answered that these companies do not have the sales channels to exploit the market, and contended that its lead in the software field would ultimately relegate the competition to secondary positions. Ion certainly represents that type of capability.
The all-solid-state array market has numerous vendors including Kaminario, Nimbus, Whiptail, Violin, and recent entries from industry giants EMC and HP. But the Fusion Ion system allows industry standard servers from the likes of Cisco, Dell, IBM, HP, and SuperMicro to become the storage array without expensive, proprietary purpose-built hardware. It also creates a powerful channel of OEMs, integrators, and distributors who will buy IoDrives and Ion software from Fusion-io and get other components from themselves or directly from major manufacturers.
So what about high availability? This is a consistent requirement in the SAN market. Ion has a high-availability option at a slightly higher list price, which allows two Ion-equipped servers to perform synchronous replication so that a failure of either would not affect access to data. Once again, using industry-standard servers allows this feature to be deployed at a lower cost.
What about servers that are built to order for major Web-scale customers like Facebook and Google? Again, this is not a problem, as these customers have and will continue to buy IoDrives from Fusion-io, and now they can get the Ion software to turn the 1U "pizza-box" servers into fast, low-cost SANs that can increase performance and reduce costs of their networks. Connectivity includes iSCSI (Ethernet), Fibre Channel, and Infiniband.
Ion is expected to be available in October with a list price of $3,900 per server and a small up-charge for the high availability feature.
Deni Connor is founding analyst for Storage Strategies NOW, an industry analyst firm that focuses on storage, virtualization, and servers. James E. Bagley is senior analyst and business development consultant at the same firm.