The SP5000 caching appliance is a 2U device containing 80 GB of DRAM and four drive slots for solid-state disks (SSDs). "We didn't want to go the Fusion-io or Gear6 route of using Flash on a card because we want to take advantage of the latest SSD technologies as they come out," said Mark Cree, Storspeed's CEO/president and founder.
Each SP5000 contains a 10 Gigabit Ethernet (1o GbE) switch and can be clustered up to six nodes with the first release. Inside is a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) that gives the box the horsepower to do deep packet inspection on each packet of data sent over the local-area network (LAN) to any NFS or CIFS-connected NAS device, enabling users to set caching policies for particular application workloads, file types and individual virtual machines. The deep packet inspection also allows for detailed reporting on performance characteristics of the storage network.
The design can theoretically scale out to 256 nodes, Cree said, and Storspeed's future roadmap includes clusters of nine, 12 and 24 nodes. "There's probably no reason to go beyond 24 nodes," he added. Cree said Storspeed's internal testing showed a six-node cluster performing at up to 2 million IOPS and up to 4.2 GBps throughput.
Third storage caching appliance launched in two weeks
The device is the third product launched in the last two weeks that automatically caches "hot" data to avoid disk I/O, following products by Avere Inc. and Dataram Corp. Storspeed's appliance is also similar to the CacheFX appliance that Gear6 Inc. has had on the market for years. Cree claims the differentiation for Storspeed is that it requires no changes to mount points within applications, and performs faster than Avere's and Gear6's system per appliance because it uses FPGAs and proprietary ASICs for processing rather than commodity processors. If the device fails, its internal Ethernet switch keeps applications' access to the back-end storage arrays intact.
Avere's FXT Series contains disk, as well as DRAM and NVRAM capacity. It can be used to front a bulk NAS storage array, but isn't transparent between the applications and the back-end NAS device. It also doesn't allow for granular policies for blocks or files to be cached, instead using its own heuristics to make that determination.
Administrators are often wary of putting a device in the data path, particularly from a new vendor. Storspeed's management team hails from big companies such as BlueArc Corp., BMC Software Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and StorageTek, but the startup doesn't yet have a purchase order. So far, it has two sales reps in Texas and California, and eight beta users testing the product.
Analysts say it will be important for Storspeed to find partners among NAS device makers, a move that the market has seen before with Gear6. "They have a similar challenge to Gear6 ahead of them, going after partners and OEMs where their value proposition to the user is buying less high-end storage," said Henry Baltazar, a storage analyst at The 451 Group. "That's not necessarily what a high-end NAS vendor wants to hear."
But the caching device might be an idea whose time has come. "The market's a little different now" than it was when Gear6 first began marketing its CacheFX, according to Baltazar. "Now people don't want to pay for a wall of disk – they don't want to pay for the power and floor space, and storage vendors know that," he said.
While data is growing, the majority of it's also cooling, said Robin Harris, an analyst at Flagstaff, Ariz.-based StorageMojo. "Most data rarely gets accessed, so why spend a lot of money on high-performance storage?" Harris said. "There's some percentage that's going to be hot, but generally it's the newly created data. The performance of storage arrays still exceeds what most applications need."
Even so, Storspeed, Avere and Dataram will be up against established vendors in the market who are also working on adding data-placement intelligence to multitiered storage systems, including Compellent Technologies Inc., EMC Corp., F5 Networks Inc. and IBM. "Those are the other elephants in the room," The 451 Group's Baltazar said.