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Kaminario, Anobit add multi-level cell flash options

Kaminario adds MLC flash to go with previous DRAM SAN, as well as a hybrid option; Anobit bumps up capacity, speed of its MLC solid-state drives (SSDs).

Kaminario and Anobit this week extended their solid-state storage product lines with enterprise-grade multi-level cell (MLC) offerings to bring down the cost of flash. Kaminario launched multi-level cell flash systems to go with its initial DRAM storage-area network (SAN), and Anobit brought out its second-generation Genesis solid-state drives (SSDs) with MLC.

Kaminario came out of stealth with its K2-D DRAM SAN last year, and is now adding a K2-F all-flash system with Fusion-io Inc.’s ioMemory PCIe cards and a K2-H hybrid system that lets customers mix DRAM and flash. The Fusion-io cards plug into the Dell blade servers that Kaminario incorporates in its SAN enclosures.

The K2-F scales from 3 TB to 30 TB, and Kaminario claims it can achieve from 100,000 IOPS to 600,000 IOPS with latency of 120 microseconds for reads and 150 microseconds for writes. Its throughput is listed as from 1 GBps to 8 GBps, and the system costs approximately $30 per GB.

That compares to the original K2-D product’s capacity of 500 GB to 12 TB, IOPS of 300,000 to 1.5 million, latency of 120 microseconds for reads and 150 microseconds for writes, and 1.6 GBps to 16 GBps throughput. The K2-D costs around $100 per GB.

The K2-H lets customers mix the two medias, supporting from 200,000 IOPS to 800,000 IOPS and from 1 GBps to 12 GBps throughput. Pricing for the hybrid system depends on the media mix, but will usually fall into the $34 per GB to $45 per GB range.

Gareth Taube, Kaminario's vice president (VP) of marketing, said the DRAM system is for workloads that are write-intensive or latency-sensitive such as high-end databases. The flash system is aimed at read-intensive and predictable workloads such as analytics, and the hybrid system lets customers use flash for read-intensive applications and DRAM for write-sensitive apps. He gave an example of a customer using the hybrid system with most of its 10 TB Oracle database on flash and a 2 TB set of hot files that are frequently accessed on DRAM.

Kaminario’s systems consist of ioDirectors with Fibre Channel (FC) switches in the cabinet connected to data nodes. The ioDirectors manage IOPS. The data nodes are the blade servers that hold DRAM, flash or both. The systems include backup modules on the data nodes for high availability. They use 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) interconnects to send host data between blades and GbE interconnects for communication between blades.

All of the systems use Kaminario’s Scale-Out Performance Storage Architecture (SPEAR) operating system for management and load balancing.

SPEAR handles the data distribution, spreading data evenly to prevent hot spots. Taube said SPEAR performs parallel I/O processing to reduce latency. It also mirrors data automatically and reconfigures the grid if there's a node failure.

Taube claims a multi-level cell flash card can last from five to eight years because of the way SPEAR handles data, which is close to the expected eight-year lifecycle for more expensive single-level cell (SLC) flash.

Kaminario’s original DRAM product competed with high-end systems such as those from Texas Memory Systems (TMS). Its new SANs will compete more with traditional data storage vendor arrays that support flash as well as all-flash SAN systems from TMS and startups Nimble Storage, Pure Storage Inc. and SolidFire.

Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at Taneja Group, said the move to a flash SAN was a natural progression for Kaminario because it began with a SAN-like architecture.

“Kaminario started on the high end in what I call the lunatic fringe, and now it’s travelling downwards,” Taneja said. “The DRAM version provides a tool to solve very complex problems, which have been hard to find storage for. They made an array that looks, feels and behaves like storage with high availability and other things we assume are necessary for a high-end array.”

“We chose to enter the market at the very high end with DRAM, the fastest medium on the market,” Kaminario's Taube said. “If budget wasn't an issue, everyone would plug in DRAM and they’d be done. But different applications have different needs, and different levels of performance are required. Now we’re adding a flash array and hybrid array with the same architecture.”

Taube said Fusion-io will resell K2 systems under the Kaminario brand. He said the partnership made sense because the vendors have common customers who need PCIe-based flash and flash storage systems. “Fusion-io has customers that love its cards, but they need shared storage in a SAN environment,” he said. “We needed Fusion-io’s best-of-breed I/O memory card for our flash arrays, and Fusion-io needed our best-of-breed flash storage.”

Anobit embraces multi-level cell flash

Anobit’s 2.5-inch Genesis SSDs use the company’s proprietary Memory Signal Processing (MSP) controllers designed to boost endurance levels so that consumer-grade MLC can be used in the enterprise. The new drives are double the capacity of the first-generation Genesis drives launched in June 2010, with new SAS interfaces. Anobit claims its improved controllers also double the performance of the new drives.

The new Genesis SSDs come in a SAS 2.0 S-Series and SATA 3.0 T-Series interfaces. The drives are designed with two controllers, one for NAND management and the other for the system interface. Anobit claims the controllers’ algorithms help improve endurance and performance of the MLC NAND flash by allowing the drives to get up to 50,000 program erase cycles, performance of 70,000/40,000 IOPS random read/write and 540/510 MBps sequential read/write with non-compressible data.

MLC flash tends to be 85% cheaper than SLC flash, said Patrick Guay, Anobit’s executive VP of worldwide sales and marketing. But MLC flash will wear out quicker than SLC flash, requiring the work in the controllers to extend its lifecycle.

“Our technology uses MSP technology that allows each cell to be written and erased 50,000 times, more than 10 times a day for five years,” Guay said.

Anobit isn’t the only vendor to use its proprietary technology to make MLC flash act more like SLC flash. MLC is becoming common in enterprise SSDs now, with most SSD vendors offering MLC or eMLC drives, and storage vendors adding them to their arrays.

“The bigger war in the industry is to design controllers that can actually make the write performance better and improve the endurance of MLC flash,” consultant Taneja said. “If I can make MLC look and behave like SLC, I just made significantly less-expensive SSDs.”

Anobit’s SAS 2.0 S-Series SSDs will be available in 100 GB, 200 GB, 400 GB and 800 GB capacities. Anobit’s first enterprise 3.5-inch Genesis SSDs were announced in June 2010.

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