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FlashSoft caches server flash, hopes to speed application performance

Startup FlashSoft launches software to turn SSD and PCIe server flash into a cache for most accessed data to reduce latency and speed application performance.

Startup FlashSoft Corp. came out of stealth today with software designed to improve application performance with solid-state storage by turning solid-state drive (SSD) and PCI Express (PCIe) server flash into a cache for the most frequently accessed data.

FlashSoft SE has been shipping to limited customers and is available on a 30-day trial basis as a download from FlashSoft’s website. FlashSoft CEO Ted Sanford said FlashSoft will work with any type of flash, and will work with NVM Express products when they hit the market. However, he said FlashSoft has the greatest benefit when used with PCIe-based flash in servers.

The software installs in the application server, and captures and accelerates data writes for specific volumes. It identifies the hottest data I/O and caches it in SSD to reduce latency and speed application performance. Sanford said the startup is also working with storage and server vendors to tune the product and will try to forge OEM deals.

FlashSoft calls its software “flash virtualization,” which it defines as the ability to automatically apply flash SSD performance to the I/O operations where it's most critically needed. Sanford said the software can recognize servers in a managed cluster.

“We watch I/O read requests and, based on the frequency of reads, we apply algorithms to determine what the hot data is, what the next likely reads will be from that application, and what data it will want,” Sanford said. “We pull that data out of storage and put in on the application. It delivers that data instantaneously as opposed to going through the stack to storage off of a spinning drive.”

Sanford said FlashSoft’s testing shows it can load data into cache within 15 minutes of installation to write data faster, but the performance boost increases over time as the software continues to monitor I/O requests.

FlashSoft SE for Windows Server is generally available with FlashSoft for Linux in beta testing. When installed on Windows Server, FlashSoft can accelerate the Microsoft Hyper-V host and is best suited for applications such as Microsoft SQL Server. Sanford said FlashSoft is also working with VMware Inc., and expects to demonstrate closer integration with VMware ESX in the second half of the year.

Competition from other server flash cache vendors

Sanford said FlashSoft reduces the cost of using SSDs because customers won’t have to store all application data on flash to see a performance spike. But the concept isn't new.

There are various server flash cache products on the market with more coming. Startup IO Turbine last month launched Accelio flash cache software to accelerate flash performance in VMware environments. Others include Fusion-io’s directCache software that works with its PCIe card flash devices, LSI’s CacheCade and the Project Lightning product EMC previewed in May but has yet to ship.

“They all work the same,” said Jim Bagley, a senior analyst at Storage Strategies Now. “They use SSDs exclusively to keep hot information. Their algorithms are the secret sauce. The difference between IO Turbine and FlashSoft is IO Turbine started with VMware and FlashSoft started with Windows. That means FlashSoft has the Microsoft world to itself now and can get out there first accelerating Exchange and SQL Server."

He added: “The problem with all of these companies is the differentiator is going to get tougher, and competitive pressures will increase.”

FlashSoft's Sanford said EMC’s move into server cache emphasizes the value of this type of product.

“When EMC says the right way to go is to put flash in the server, it validates all the work we’ve done over the last several years,” he said. “But EMC is saying ‘It’s our PCIe card and only our PCIe card, and it ties only to our underlying software.’ We intend to make this neutral for end users to buy a flash product that best suits their workloads. They can use any PCIe card and any server.”


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