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Skyera's SkyHawk Swoops In With Affordable, High-Performance Storage

While it would be a stretch to call the market for all-solid-state storage systems crowded, customers looking to modernize their storage estates with all-solid-state systems no longer have to choose between a few dedicated go-fast vendors like Texas Memory Systems, Whiptail and Violin Memory. All-solid-state buyers can also choose from newcomers Kaminario, Nimbus and GreenBytes, and even all-solid-state versions of old friends like HP's 3Par and EMC's VNX.

Startup Skyera enters this market with what may be the most revolutionary storage system we've seen in years. Its 1U SkyHawk can deliver 500,000 IOPS from 44 Tbytes or useable flash capacity at a cost of just $3 per useable gigabyte. Since it also has inline data compression and deduplication, most users' effective cost-per-terabyte will be less than the magic $1 mark. Compare that with a Dell EqualLogic PS6100XV with 24 400-Gbyte 15K RPM disks, which at an MSRP of almost $65,000 costs $6 per gigabyte in the RAID 10 configuration appropriate for IOPS-hungry applications.

If $1 per gigabyte isn't value enough, consider that each Skyhawk also includes an Ethernet switch with 40 1-Gbps and 3 10-Gbps ports. As you would expect for a storage system with a built-in Ethernet switch, the Skyhawk uses iSCSI to connect to servers.

While most other vendors building solid-state or, for that matter, hybrid arrays have used solid-state disks as their building blocks, Skyera's SkyHawk is built from raw flash chips. Of course, Skyera's team knows more about the weirdness that is flash memory than most storage system designers. Founders Radoslav Danilak and Rod Mullendore were previously key players in the development of the SandForce SSD controller chips now sold by LSI, while other members of the team designed flash and controller chips at Toshiba and Marvell.

Rather than use flash controllers to handle the digital signal processing (DSP), error correction code (ECC) and wear leveling over a few flash chips like an SSD would, and then a storage controller managing multiple SSDs, Skyera has distributed the DSP and ECC functions while centralizing the wear leveling and integrating it into its data protection scheme. This lets it more accurately level wear across all the flash in the system. This is key to getting enterprise endurance from 2xnm MLC, which many vendors have simply dismissed as not enterprise-ready. Skyera claims these techniques amplify the flash's life 100 times.

When the Skyera guys told me they had a 1U 44-Tbyte flash system for just $131,000, I figured it was a bare-bones, rack-mount SSD. I was pleasantly surprised when they told me it also had more than the usual set of storage management features, like thin provisioning, snapshots with consistency groups and clones.

The most obvious weaknesses of the Skyhawk are that it's a single-controller system without real high availability, though at this price I might just mirror in my server's volume manager (Hey, VMware--where's my volume manager?) and it comes in only 12-, 22- and 44-Gbyte models. Now when Skyera comes out with the scale-out, high-availability version, that might be perfect.