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Violin Memory launches all-flash storage for the enterprise

Violin Memory looks to take on high-end enterprise primary storage vendors with its new all-flash storage array, available with MLC or SLC.

Violin Memory Inc. today expanded its solid-state portfolio with its 6000 Series Memory Arrays -- two new high-end all-flash storage arrays for primary data -- and doubled the capacity of its 3220 Series Memory Array.

The Violin 6000 Series includes single-level cell (SLC) and multi-level cell (MLC) versions using flash from the startup’s largest investor, Toshiba. The Violin 6616 holds 16 TB (12 usable) of SLC flash while the Violin 6632 scales to 32 TB (22 usable) of MLC. Both models are 3U devices. Violin claims the SLC version supports 1 million IOPS and throughput of 4 GBps while the MLC version handles 500,000 IOPS and 2 GBps. Both models include eight 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) or 8 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) ports.

Several smaller vendors have launched all-solid-state drive (SSD) arrays since Nimbus Data got the ball rolling last year. SolidFire, Pure Storage, Texas Memory Systems and Kaminario have followed in 2011.

Violin CEO Don Basile said his company’s arrays are aimed at the high end of the market, where they will compete with systems such as EMC Symmetrix VMAX and Hitachi Data Systems Virtual Storage Platform (VSP). Basile said the 6000 Series is best suited for transactional databases, real-time analytics, virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs) and performance-intensive cloud storage. They have fully redundant components and active-active controllers.

“We have all the feature sets to replace a primary high-end storage array,” Basile said, also pointing to Violin’s software that provides dynamic LUN management, multipath connectivity and implements FC and iSCSI block storage protocols. “We put the entire rack in a box.”

Basile said one rack of 10 clustered Violin arrays can produce 10 million IOPS with 40 GBps throughput, while a VMAX would require 40 racks to match those numbers.

According to Violin Memory, the 6000 Series has a list price of approximately $34 per GB for SLC and $18 per GB for MLC. The new systems are available to Violin's strategic partners and will be generally available in early 2012.

Vendors push MLC flash in enterprise arrays

While SLC is more reliable and performs better than MLC, SSD vendors have been pushing cheaper MLC flash into their enterprise arrays. That requires work to make it perform better. In Violin’s case, it’s vRAID integrated software stripes data across memory modules in a 4 + 1 parity model that Violin Memory claims ensures predictable performance and gives its MLC flash a five-year endurance cycle.

“The long-term trend in the industry is that MLC use is increasing,” Basile said.

While the 6000 Series includes all networking, controllers and SSDs in one box, the 3000 Series is memory gateway with expansion shelves. The 3220 now scales to 20 TB of SLC flash in a 3U shelf. The 3220 can handle 250,000 IOPS with a 1 GBps throughput, and Violin positions it as a midrange/departmental box for optimizing performance of specific applications.

Jim Bagley, senior analyst at Storage Strategies Now, said Violin Memory and the other all-flash vendors are looking to relegate spinning disk for archiving only. In Violin’s case, the target is enterprise hard drive arrays.

“Violin’s looking at taking on all the high-end array guys,” Bagley said. “Its claim is that there’s no need to buy high-end rotating media with these things. You get this for your production data, and put everything else on cheap SATA arrays.”

Bagley said Violin Memory has a good chance of making it in the crowded SSD market because the startup is well-funded (it has raised $75 million this year alone from strategic partners) and close relationships with Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM and Toshiba. HP sells Violin systems as the HP VMA-series Memory Arrays (VMA) through an OEM deal, and IBM has a joint-selling arrangement with Violin. That could make Violin a prime acquisition target if larger storage vendors start looking for all-flash systems of their own.

“If the big vendors see the smaller guys taking market share, they may go looking for an acquisition or bring out their own,” Bagley said. “Violin’s in a good position because of its relationship with Toshiba, and it has IBM and HP selling its products.”

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