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Violin integrates Windows Storage Server 2012 on all-flash array

Violin Memory embeds Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 in flash array, speeding Windows performance and giving the array storage management features.

Today Violin Memory launched its Windows Flash Array (WFA), an all-flash storage system developed with Microsoft that runs Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 embedded in the array.

Violin first announced the Windows system last fall, but it became generally available today and the flash vendor revealed more details about the architecture.

The WFA uses Violin's 6000 Series all-flash array architecture with Windows Storage Server embedded on clustered blades.

The array takes advantage of Windows' capability of connecting to external storage through Server Message Block (SMB) protocol enabled by remote direct memory access (RDMA). WFA also uses Windows Server management features such as data deduplication, compression, migration, thin provisioning, mirroring, snapshots and DFS replication -- features Violin has yet to develop for its array.

WFA includes two clustered blade servers running Window Storage Server 2012 R2 and 10-Gigabit Ethernet NICs for RDMA access over IP (InfiniBand support is on Violin's roadmap).

Through SMB Direct, the array directly loads data into the application server's DRAM to speed performance. At launch, WFA supports up to four arrays in a cluster.

Violin chief marketing officer Eric Herzog said that the WFA will appeal to application and business owners who rely on Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint and Hyper-V. Other uses for the system include virtual desktop infrastructure and file sharing.

"This is not a pure storage sell," Herzog said. "This is an application sell and business-optimization sell."

Herzog said Microsoft optimized the Windows Storage Server kernel and Violin modified its operating system and drivers for the WFA.

"We're one of the few NAS all-flash arrays out there," he said. "By embedding the Windows storage stack with deduplication and mirroring on a powerful array, you get better application performance and CPU utilization."

Eric Burgener, a research director for IDC's storage practice, said the WFA gives Violin management features it does not have natively. It also gives the vendor a head-start on others that might want to add Windows Storage Server to their arrays to increase performance.

"The relationship they have with Microsoft is not exclusive, but they have done specific development work," Burgener said. "This is not something another vendor can replicate in 12-18 months.

"If you had to build things like compression and dedupe, thin provisioning and mirroring into the platform natively, it would take a year or two. Violin is leveraging those features in software that's already shipping."

Although the WFA was conceived long ago, it is a big part of the turnaround plans of Violin's new management to successfully compete in a crowded flash storage market. Violin changed most of its top executives early this year following a rocky initial public offering and disappointing first quarter as a public company. The new team is headed by CEO Kevin DeNuccio and includes head of sales Tom Mitchell and Herzog.

Herzog said the WFA is priced the same as the standard 6000 array with a starting list price of around $75,000. Violin claims a street price of around $4 to $4.50 per GB for its 6000 arrays.

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