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Violin Memory Concerto gets an all-flash update

Violin Memory unveils new all-flash storage arrays with block-level data reduction and protection services integrated in the operating system.

Violin Memory Inc. today unveiled new 7300 and 7700 all-flash storage arrays featuring block-level data reduction...

and data protection capabilities. These features have been integrated into Violin Memory Concerto OS 7 and are managed through a single interface.

The storage vendor, based in Santa Clara, Calif., did not offer block-level inline deduplication and compression in the past, as many of its all-flash storage competitors did, and provided data services such as snapshots, thin provisioning, replication and continuous data protection (CDP) as separate software add-ons with multiple management controls. Software that comes from a Violin OEM deal with FalconStor provides some of the new data services.

"They needed block-level dedupe and compression. Now they’ve completed the renovation and overhaul of their product, and on paper, it looks competitive. Whether this was in time remains to be seen," said Tim Stammers, a senior analyst at New York-based 451 Research. He noted Violin’s financial troubles at a time when some all-flash array vendors have seen revenue soar.

Eric Burgener, a storage research director at International Data Corp., based in Framingham, Mass., predicted this year’s competitive battleground in the all-flash array (AFA) market will be mixed workload consolidation, in contrast to past years when low-capacity AFAs ran only one or two database applications.

"What Violin has done here clearly makes its platform more attractive for mixed workload consolidation," Burgener said. "The integration of data services into the native operating system is really a key issue in terms of simplicity for end users."

The integration of data services into the native operating system is really a key issue in terms of simplicity for end users.
Eric BurgenerStorage research director at International Data Corp.

With Violin’s new 7300 and 7700 Flash Storage Platform (FSP) designs, users get block-level inline deduplication and compression, snapshots, clones, replication, CDP and other data services as part of Concerto OS 7, which replaces Violin’s prior vMOS 5 operating system.

Customers can manage and monitor the flash environment through a single console with Violin’s updated Symphony 3 software, which is now bundled at no charge with Concerto OS 7. The company used to have different GUIs for management and charged a fee for Symphony, according to Erik Ottem, director of product marketing at Violin.

One potentially useful feature in the newly updated Symphony console is granular control over data services such as data reduction. For instance, customers can turn inline deduplication and compression on or off by LUN if they choose.

"What’s common in databases is you’ll have a number of LUNs," Ottem said. "You might have several LUNS for your database with just data in them. You’ll have additional LUNs for directories, maybe additional LUNs for tables. Because tables and LUNs act as the index, you don’t really want to dedupe those. So, you might turn dedupe off for the tables and the directories but leave it on for the raw data itself."

Other product enhancements include support for 16 Gbps Fibre Channel, updated Violin Intelligent Memory Modules and I/O concurrency with the company’s fourth-generation Flash Fabric Architecture. Ottem said the company added an additional concurrency element allowing the system to read and write at the same time on the same RAID stripe, rather than simply erase and read simultaneously.

"That’s one of the things that really helps manage consistent high performance," Ottem said. "By having concurrency plus the parallelism that we’ve built into the arrays, you get nice stable performance, which is great for virtualized environments."

With the new 7300 FSP line running Concerto OS 7, Violin claimed performance improved from 500,000 IOPS to 700,000 IOPS at 1 ms latency with a mixed workload of 70% reads and 30% writes. 

"Violin is focusing its message on three things: consistency of low latency, completeness of function and price/performance," said Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., based in Milford, Mass., via email. "None of these are unique differentiators by themselves, but delivering all three in one package is how Violin hopes to win."

The 7300 series began shipping at the end of January with 70 TB of raw capacity in three rack units (RU), or an estimated 217 TB "effective" with data reduction factored in. Customers have the option to start with less storage capacity and use Violin’s "pay-as-you-grow" option to get to the 70 TB raw. They can contact Violin to purchase a software key to unlock the additional capacity.

The list price for the 7300 series with 35 TB of raw capacity is $490,000 for the hardware and $60,000 for the base software for a total of $550,000. With the hardware and base software, the 7300 with 44 TB raw lists at $575,000, with 52.8 TB raw at $600,000, and with 70.4 TB, at $650,000.

The 7300E FSP entry-level model ships with a raw capacity of 35 TB in 3 RU, but customers can license as few as 11 TB and take advantage of the pay-as-you-grow model. Violin offers raw capacity increments of 11 TB, 17.6 TB, 26.4 TB -- or, with data reduction factored in, "effective" capacities ranging from about 34 TB to 125 TB.

The total list price, including hardware and base software, for the 7300E ranges from $299,000 for the 11 TB raw entry-level configuration to $490,000 for the 35 TB raw array.

The modular 7700, which is due for release in March, will support up to six shelves and 1.3 PB of "effective" capacity with data reduction factored in, in a single namespace in 24 RU. The 7700 also features new internal switches over the prior 7100/7200 product line, which supported up to four shelves of storage, Ottem said.

Product capabilities available in the new 7700 FSP but not in the 7300 include stretch metro clusters, synchronous replication and data-at-rest encryption. Customers can mix and match any combination of 7300 FSPs and older 6000 AFAs for up to six storage shelves. Ottem said Violin will continue to sell the older 6000 arrays at least until the end of the year.

Violin’s latest integration efforts focus exclusively on block-based storage. The company’s inline deduplication and compression for Network File System (NFS)-based file storage continue to require the separate Concerto 2200 data reduction appliance that launched in August. Violin’s Concerto 2200 appliance ingests NFS files from applications, deduplicates and/or compresses the files, and writes them to Violin’s 6000 AFAs as blocks, Ottem said.

Violin also sells a scale-out Windows Flash Array (WFA) for file storage. Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 runs on the embedded controllers inside the WFA to provide deduplication, compression and other data services for NFS and CIFS/SMB files, Ottem noted.

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What do you think of updates available with Violin Concerto OS 7 and the new 7300 and 7700 series?
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The block-level dedupe is cool (although others are doing it), and being that it's flash the I/O should be great. What I haven't seen is A.) anything related to reliability, especially at the petabyte level of storage or over a consistent period of heavy usage, and B.) cost. We looked at Violin some time ago, and were only impressed by certain features. This is a significant upgrade, so we might look at it again.
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