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LSI Goes All Flashy

LSI has made several moves in the past few months that make it clear the company wants to evolve with the storage market as it makes the transition from spinning disks to solid state. LSI's latest solid-state products, the Nytro line, concentrate on bringing flash into the server, a transition I'm especially interested in. The company has also announced the first tool I’ve seen to help you figure out how flash can speed up your applications.

The Nytro product line is anchored by a new version of LSI's WarpDrive PCIe SSD. The new WarpDrive runs at PCIe 3.0 speeds on the latest Romley servers that support it, cramming as much as 3.2 Tbytes of usable flash in the full-height, half-length version, or 1.6 Tbytesfor servers that need a low-profile card.

Nytro WarpDrive isn't just another PCIe flash card. Based on flash controllers from LSI's recent SandForce acquisition, it uses the same LSI SAS drivers as the chip-level SAS controllers LSI provides all the server vendors. That means you can boot from the WarpDrive and run just about any operating system with the drivers that come in the box. This design will also use less system CPU and RAM than Fusion-IO's thin-controller model.

While PCIe SSDs can provide blazing speed, they're really just fast DAS, which limits their use in clustered environments like most hypervisors. LSI's Nytro XD caching software lets you use the Nytro WarpDrive to accelerate applications with PCIe flash while still storing the data on SAN storage.

I don't yet have all the details on Nytro XD, but the LSI guys were clear that, unlike some of the current caching products, it doesn't rely on software in each virtual machine to do the caching.

LSI hasn't left its MegaRAID controllers out, either. The company's CacheCade software has used SSDs connected to the MegaRAID as a cache for a couple of years. The new Nytro MegaRAID moves the flash to the MegaRAID card, using the same design as Nytro WarpDrive, with lower capacity, of course. This should boost performance and free server drive slots for spinning disks.

Thinking of an SSD-cached RAID controller in a server has me thinking this would be a stellar offering combined with a virtual storage appliance like StorMagic or StarWind. A pair of servers equipped with Nytro MegaRAIDs with 300 Gbytes of flash and six 3-Tbyte 7,200 RPM drives should end up being a much faster iSCSI storage system than most low-end arrays. Since the VSAs will mirror the data, it should be at least as reliable, as well.

Saving what might be the best for last, LSI has come up with a software package that will monitor your running applications and tell you how adding flash can speed them up. We all know that if we can use flash to hold the hot data into flash, and leave the cold data on 7,200 RPM disks, we can build a storage environment out of flash and trash that will be both high-performance and affordable.

The problem is we generally don't have any idea how much hot data we have or where it's located. LSI's free Nytro Predictor watches your applications' disk accesses and not only identifies your hot data, but shows you how much flash you'll need to boost your performance.

Disclaimer: LSI bought me a nice lunch in New York to brief me on these products.