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EMC Delivers On Server-Based Flash Storage

Originally unveiled last May and scheduled to ship in 2011, EMC's PCIe/flash-based server cache technology, code-named Project Lightning, is now available under the name of VFCache. The enterprise storage giant has been the leader in enterprise flash drive capacity since entering this market in 2008, shipping more than 24 petabytes in 2011, an eight times increase in customer shipments since 2009, says Mark Sorenson, senior VP and general manager of EMC's Flash Business Unit.

"In 2011 we more than doubled the amount of capacity we shipped." The company shipped more then 3 petabytes in 2009 and more than 10 petabytes in 2010. Early adopters were Wall Street people, Sorenson says, who wanted automation but were OK without it. "FAST [Fully Automated Storage Tiering software] helped cross the chasm to mainstream."

The company's initial flash storage provided 300 times faster data access than 15K-rpm hard disk drives. By placing flash technology in the server on a PCIe card, performance can be accelerated again up to 4,000 times faster data access than 15K HDDs. EMC says the hardware and software combination that makes up VFCache achieved a three times throughput improvement and 50% reduction in latency in an Oracle environment. It extends the protection benefits of the company's high-end Symmetrix VMAX and VMAXe, as well as midrange VNX and VNXe, flash-enabled storage arrays into the server, delivering data availability, integrity, reliability and disaster recovery capabilities.

Later this year EMC plans to add deduplication technology to VFCache, enabling even higher efficiencies. Also, additional flash capacity and form factors will be supported, and VFCache will be more deeply integrated with EMC's storage management technologies and FAST architecture.

The company is also previewing Project Thunder, a purpose-built, low-latency, server networked flash-based appliance that is scalable, serviceable and shareable. Scheduled for an early customer access program in the next quarter, it will deliver I/Os measured in millions and timed in microseconds.

While using PCIe flash as a cache is cool, EMC wasn't the first to think of it, says Network Computing contributor Howard Marks, citing Marvell's Dragonfly and Fusion IO's directCache. "The key difference is that EMC designed Project Lightning to act as cache for shared storage in the dynamic environment of vSphere with vMotion, dynamic resource scheduling, high availability and fault tolerance. Given that EMC owns 80% of VMware, it's a sure thing that Project Lightning will appear on the VMware hardware compatibility list soon after it hits the streets, making my friend Stephen Foskett, and the rest of the world's steely-eyed storage guys who treat vendor HCLs as holy writ, happy."

EMC isn't providing pricing on VFCache, but Sorenson says cost continues to be a customer concern. "We have seen prices come down, but not in a meteoric way ... which is why software is so important. EMC offers all-flash configurations, but the most popular choice is hybrid. The majority, 90% percent, is disk-based, and the remaining 10% is flash."

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