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Violin 3000 series pushes SSD capacity pricing toward Fibre Channel SAN

Violin Memory will offer 20 TB flash capacity in 3U appliance with new Violin 3000 SSD appliance by next year; sees price parity with Fibre Channel SANs (FC SANs).

Violin Memory Inc. today launched a solid-state drive (SSD) storage appliance that it claims will eventually scale to 100 TB and could hit a cost-per-gigabyte price point similar to that of high-end Fibre Channel SAN (FC SAN) technology.

Violin Memory's appliances consist of solid-state modules called Violin Intelligent Memory Modules (VIMMs). The first model in the new Violin 3000 series, the Violin 3200, will hold 84 128 GB single-level cell (SLC) VIMMs for 10 TB of total capacity or 84 256 GB multi-level cell (MLC) VIMMs for 20 TB. The 3U appliance can also have up to 500 GB of RAM cache, depending on the model.

The Violin 3200 can also support SATA, SAS, PCIe and Fibre Channel interfaces. While customers can put SLC Flash, MLC Flash or DRAM VIMMs in the system, there is no mixing and matching of different kinds of VIMMs within the same appliance.

List price starts at $30,000 for a little more than 700 GB, but the 700 GB model is used only for caching applications. A 10 TB Violin 3200 costs approximately $200,000.

Greater flash density planned

Matt Barletta, Violin Memory's vice president (VP) of marketing, said the firm plans to ship 256 GB SLC and 512 GB MLC VIMMs later this year for total appliance capacities of 20 TB for SLC and 40 TB for MLC. The 20 TB and 40 TB systems are projected to perform at between 1 million and 2 million IOPS.

Violin Memory's NAND chip partner, Toshiba, is working to improve the density of flash chips to hold 3 bits to 4 bits per NAND die, which Barletta said could make a 100 TB system possible in 2011. But he acknowledges there is currently little market for Flash storage systems of that size.

"The biggest databases in the world are usually not bigger than 10 terabytes, so most problems can be solved with 10 terabytes," he said.

With the Violin 3000 series, customers can also scale up systems in 1 TB increments rather than 20 TB chunks, Barletta added.

The Violin 3000 release brings pricing down to approximately $20 per GB. That's expensive compared with SATA disk drives, but in the ballpark of 15,000 rpm Fibre Channel systems with customary SAN software add-ons such as replication and multipathing features.

"You're not paying for disks in an EMC array — you're paying for the aggregation technologies that turn an array into something more reliable than an individual disk drive," Barletta said.

Still, Barletta said he doesn't expect Violin Memory devices to replace traditional SANs — at least, not right away. "I expect most customers will augment their SAN storage for applications they want better performance on," he said. "But as their comfort level grows over the next two years, they might be more comfortable not keeping a device they've gotten to know and trust over the last 10 years."

Will enterprise data storage pros hear Violin Memory's message?

Violin Memory has been around since 2005, but began as a RAM memory specialist. The company brought in former Fusion-io CEO Don Basile as its CEO in April 2009, and completed a $20 million funding round led by Toshiba. Basile said he hopes to raise another $50 million to $100 million in funding and double Violin Memory's headcount to 100 by the end of the year.

In March, FalconStor Software Inc. rolled out a SAN accelerator gateway using Violin's 1010 Memory Appliance as a caching device.

"They started off with technology that was pretty pricey and playing to a very small niche that was pretty much dominated by Texas Memory Systems," said Jim Handy, director at Los Gatos, CA-based market research firm Objective Analysis, of Violin Memory. "It's too early to tell how [the Violin 3000] will be received by the market."

in his experience, Handy said, those who actually adopt flash tend to be I/O bound shops that respond to price-per-IOPS or price-per-watt messages. He said organizations running into untenable performance bottlenecks that can't be addressed with wide striping or short stroking remain in the minority.

In other words, the wider enterprise wants to hear about pricing parity for SSD with traditional Fibre Channel, but that doesn't mean they'll necessarily buy.

Handy said there's another hurdle to the blended-infrastructure phase that Violin Memory's Barletta predicted of a mix between SAN and SSD in users' environments. "Not a lot of [application] software does a good job using a small SSD handling data fast while also using slower SAN storage," he said. "It's just not that mature a science yet."

One early Violin Memory SSD customer said he bought a Violin 1010 Memory Appliance to solve a performance problem and reduce server sprawl.

"We had to maintain three different copies of our databases on three different server clusters and three different storage partitions to keep performance up," said the VP of operations for a San Diego-based data analytics company who asked that his firm not be identified because of policies forbidding him from representing it in the media.

The company used server virtualization to reduce 11 servers to two larger boxes, which are attached to two sets of redundant 2 TB Violin Memory arrays. The old servers have since been repurposed for test/dev.


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