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SanDisk releases FlashSoft flash caching software for vSphere

SanDisk Corp. released its FlashSoft flash caching software for VMware vSphere that accelerates application performance.

SanDisk Corp. today introduced the VMware vSphere server virtualization version of its FlashSoft flash caching software, which is designed to accelerate application performance and virtual machine (VM) density.

FlashSoft released Windows Server and Linux versions of the flash caching software prior to its acquisition by SanDisk in February 2012.

Rich Petersen, SanDisk's director of marketing management for the company's FlashSoft product team, said the software works with any solid-state device – a PCI Express (PCIe) card installed on the server, a separate SSD, multiple SSDs in a RAID configuration, or a logical unit number (LUN) assigned from an array.

"Basically, if we can see it as a logical volume, we can use it as a cache," Petersen said.

The FlashSoft software installs as a kernel module inside the VMware ESXi operating system driver stack, so it runs transparently within the hypervisor without requiring agents on virtual machines.

"Everything is driven from within the operating system itself," Petersen said. "The only other component is the plug-in to the vCenter GUI."

Administrators can monitor caching performance and stop or start caching acceleration for individual VMs or virtual machine disks (VMDKs) from the vCenter management console.

When working with customers, Petersen said it's typical to see investments in large servers with huge amounts of memory that run CPU utilization at between 5% and 10%. That's because of I/O latency between the physical host and storage, and the "IO blender effect" caused by randomized I/O in VM hosts, he said.

"They spend tens of thousands of dollars on a server and they're never getting it out of first gear," Petersen said.

Petersen claims FlashSoft technology accelerates application performance by three to five times, and VM density up to three times.

Jeff Boles, a senior analyst and director of validation services for the Taneja Group, said the FlashSoft vSphere software allows administrators to integrate flash without having to re-tool their storage systems. It also means they don't have to move data from storage arrays to PCIe cards and move away from data protection tools such as snapshots and replication.

"If I were out there buying IT today, I'd be pretty intrigued because this is a really interesting way to suddenly make use of flash for virtual machine and accelerate a lot of operations without breaking your storage," he said. "A lot of the flash out there requires you to break your storage to use it."

The FlashSoft for VMware vSphere software is available from SanDisk today for $3,900 per server. FlashSoft for Windows Server runs $3,000 per server, and FlashSoft for Linux is $3,500.

Like all areas of flash-related storage technology, there is no shortage of caching software on the market today or coming soon. Startup Proximal Data last month launched its AutoCache software that also plugs directly into the ESXi hypervisor without requiring agents in the guest OS. Other independent software competitors include Nevex and Velobit.

EMC has caching software to go with its VFCache PCIe-based flash product. Like SanDisk, other PCIe card vendors have either acquired or developed caching software to use with their cards. Fusion-io bought ioTurbine and OCZ picked up Sanrad for caching software. STEC developed EnhanceIO software and LSI has Nytro XD for PCIe flash cards.

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A correction on the LSI caching software mentioned in the article. The LSI Nytro XD solution uses the Nytro WarpDrive flash cards for accelerating applications. VMware support will be demonstrated in booth 207 at the upcoming 2012 VMworld.