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Fusion-io braces for competition with bigger, faster PCIe flash device

Fusion-io has been one of the early successes in solid-state storage, turning its early lead in PCIe flash cards into an IPO this year after winning large deals with customers Facebook and Apple.

Now as competitors are popping up to challenge Fusion-io, the vendor is moving to make its products bigger and faster. Today Fusion-io doubled the capacity and improved performance of its ioDrive Octal flash-based accelerator card.

The 10 TB ioDrive Octal, aimed at data warehousing and supercomputing, includes eight 1.28 TB multi-layer cell (MLC) ioMemory modules in a double-wide PCIe device. Multiple cards can go into a server, packing 40 TB of flash capacity into a 4U server.

The 10TB Octal can handle more than 1.3 million IOPS with 6.7 GBps of bandwidth, according to Fusion-io. The 5.12 TB ioDrive Octal that began shipping two years ago supported 800,000 IOPS.

Fusion-io founder and chief marketing officer Rick White said feedback received from customers indicates they want as much capacity as possible in the Octal product. He said the Octal is used mainly for scale-up performance while Fusion-io’s single-card ioDrive and ioDrive Duo cards are for scale-out implementations.

White said Fusion-io’s early success comes from the vendor taking a fresh approach to driving performance and reducing latency in storage systems.

“We founded this company as a software company,” he said. “We couldn’t convince major flash memory companies to build a memory card based on flash, so we had to do it ourselves. We say it’s not about PCI Express, it’s about not thinking about this as a disk. Don’t think about it as storage, think about it as a memory tier.

”We decouple storage from capacity. The old way of scaling performance was to add spindles, then you stripe them, short stroke them, and add a layer of cache. The problem was, you had network latency. It wasn’t just about IOPS, it was how fast can I get a response? And does this play with my application? We were about decoupling performance and putting it into the server.”

He said the idea was to enable hundred-thousand dollar JBODs to perform as well as million-dollar SANs. Much of Fusion-io’s early success comes from convincing large companies such as Facebook and Apple to adopt its approach.

Traditional storage vendors moved into flash with solid-state drives (SSDs) on their storage arrays, but White said “all those SSDs had to go through a RAID controller on the PCIe bus. It’s about getting rid of SAS, SATA and all the storage protocols.”

The competition is paying attention. LSI Corp., STEC, Violin Memory, Texas Memory Systems, Micron, OCZ and Virident now have PCIe flash cards similar to Fusion-io’s,and EMC is preparing to ship its server-based PCIe flash Project Lightning product.

“The industry has followed us to PCIe, they’re following us to caching software, and the next step is to lose the storage protocols and think of us a new tier of memory,” White said.

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