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Pillar pledges SSD support in 2009

Pillar’s CEO Mike Workman dropped by our office today, and said that while Pillar retains its earlier reservations about SSDs not being best utilized behind a network loop, the company will support them next year. The systems vendor will not have an exclusive partner for the drives, Workman said, though he mentioned Intel as one supplier.

Pillar’s Axiom arrays separate disk capacity from the storage controller with components called bricks (disk) and slammers (controllers). Workman says the Axiom will support SSDs in the bricks, and the arrays’ QoS features will be updated to support moving workloads to SSDs. This can happen either according to policy or automatically (with prior user approval) when the system is under intense workload.

This is definitely a change in tune, though Workman has always said Pillar’s systems were capable of supporting SSDs and probably would. He just thought network latency was too great, and he hasn’t retreated from that position. “It’s there,” he said. “There’s no way to get around that.”

But Workman says the biggest obstance to SSD now is price. “When we show people how they work, they say, ‘Fine,'” he said. “Then  we tell them how much it costs, and that’s when they keel over.”

Despite offering an 80% utilization guarantee earlier this year, Workman said only about 15% of Pillar’s customers are at 80%. But the company hasn’t been paying out lots of guarantee money, either. The details of the offer are vague to begin with: the terms are negotiated on a case by case basis, “to remediate any issue, as well as financial pain.” The terms of the guarantee would have to be negotiated as part of the original sale.

Analysts also said users might be wary of pushing utilization that high given that it requires capacity planning to be precise. “I can’t make [customers] write data to the system,” Workman said. “The guarantee was not that they will but that they can.” He added that the average Pillar customer’s utilization currently is 62%.

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Storage I/O Network performance too limited for SSD? Yeh right, maybe with a 10/100Mb based iSCSI network and other congestion among other issues. However on any decent SMB or enterprise I/O network including SAS, FC, iSCSI or NAS, assuming you are talking about Fibre Channel (2G, 4G, 8G) or even iSCSI at 1Gb or 10Gb on dedicated storage networks, or 3G SAS, all are and have been fast enough for SSD in the past, just ask folks like Texas Memory Systems among many others. Think about it for a minute, even if you are talking about SSD in the form of FLASH with a SATA interface, the I/O network is not going to be the typical bottleneck. The most common bottleneck for SSD is usually the controller that sits between the I/O or storage network and the SSD devices (FLASH or RAM) or even disk drives. Many mid to high-end storage systems today are actually back-end constrained meaning that the controllers could do even more I/Os if there were more disks to service the requests. However there are also some storage systems out there that are controller or firmware bound, or, are in the process of being addressed to limit issues to enable full speed of fast disks to occur. Perhaps that what's Pillar is referring to, that internal storage system controllers and their associated internal networks and firmware are too slow. On the other hand, perhaps Pillar has another industry 1st having found a way to eliminate controller and internal storage system network bottlenecks having finally pushed the performance bottleneck out to the I/O network. If that is the case, I along with the rest of the industry would very much look forward to seeing SPC or MSFT ESRP or TPC or some other benchmark results as that would be very exciting news. Meanwhile, back to regularly scheduled programming. Cheers GS