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Violin Memory joins SSD vendors adding data management

With the Violin Concerto All Flash Array and software suite, Violin Memory joins the list of solid-state storage vendors adding data management.

Violin Memory Inc. today launched its Concerto 7000 All Flash Array line and software suite, adding the vendor to the list of solid-state storage vendors that are expanding capacity and adding data management features typically found in enterprise disk-based systems.

The Violin Concerto 7000 All Flash Array combines Violin's 6000 Series storage hardware, updated controller software and the option to integrate enterprise data services such as synchronous and remote asynchronous replication, stretch metro cluster capabilities and advanced data protection. The software package also can bundle previously offered features, including snapshots and thin provisioning.

"It's basically functionality that they have to have to play in the enterprise," said Marc Staimer, president and founder of Dragon Slayer Consulting in Beaverton, Oregon.

Two increasingly common flash array features that did not ship with today's Concerto software release -- inline data deduplication and inline compression -- are due in the second half of the year, according to Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer at Violin.

"We compress and dedupe the data before we send it for replication and we leverage that technology to create inline deduplication and compression for the whole array," Herzog said. "It was supposed to be part of this release, but there's so much code we have to change to make it right, and it's got to be rock solid. It is rock solid [now] on the replication side."

New controller software in the Violin Concerto 7000 enables the array to scale up to 280 terabytes (TB) in raw capacity with a single namespace across its four 70 TB shelves, if desired. Prior to the Concerto 7000's availability, only Violin's recently released Windows Flash Array (WFA) could scale beyond 70 TB. The 6264-WFA, which shipped in May, could scale to 280 TB due to the Microsoft software's clustering capabilities, Herzog noted.

The 280 TB maximum Concerto configuration is 18U -- 12U for the flash, 4U for the servers loaded with the software -- which Violin OEMs from Dell -- and two 1U switches -- which Violin OEMs from Brocade. The minimum capacity of the Concerto 7000 is 35 TB.

Herzog said that Violin will continue to sell the 6000 Series, with models ranging in raw capacity from 6.5 TB to 70 TB. Customers have the option to place an existing 6000 array as a storage shelf behind a Concerto 7000 controller. They also have the option to add the new Concerto data services through the purchase of a Fibre Channel- or iSCSI-based upgrade kit, which includes two servers, cables, software and, if there are more than two shelves, switches.

Violin's approach of delivering of its new enterprise data services through dual failover servers caught the attention of Randy Kerns, a senior strategist and analyst at Evaluator Group Inc. in Boulder, Colorado.

"They put this into separate 1U heads that are redundant and active-active. The data only transfers through those heads if it's being used for replication. Normally it's direct access to the underlying arrays. So, they've kept any overhead that they might have for data access out of the data path by adding these data services modules," Kerns said. "It's a very clever implementation."

To jump start work on the new data services, Violin purchased a source code license from FalconStor Software Inc. in the spring of 2013, according to Herzog. He said Violin software engineers spent over a year rewriting, modifying or enhancing at least 50% of the code.

Violin was the market leader in all-flash arrays in 2012, with 30.5% share, but the Santa Clara, California-based company fell to third place last year, slipping to 13.2%, according to Gartner Inc. Violin's revenue increased from $72.1 million to $88.3 million, but IBM and Pure Storage had triple-digit revenue growth to claim the top two spots.

"Over the past 12 months, most of the all-flash arrays coming to the market have almost a full suite of software that comes with it," said Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at Taneja Group Inc. in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. "Violin was missing that piece, and because of some of the management issues they had, they lost time. Now with the new management team and a great set of tools, I think they're back in the market with a vengeance. A lot of people had written off Violin because of all the problems they were having, but after this announcement, I don't think they can rule them out."

Violin sells two models of the Concerto array. The Concerto 7100 is available in capacities of 35 TB and 70 TB at hardware list prices of $595,000 and $795,000 respectively. The Concerto 7200 hardware ships in three configurations: 70 TB (list price: $920,000), 140 TB (list price: $1,465,000) and 280 TB (list price: $2,555,000).

Violin also offers three software packages -- base, premium host and advanced replication. The base includes storage management and basic data protection such as snapshots, replication and continuous data protection (CDP). Premium host includes host disaster recovery agents for popular database, email and virtualization applications. Advanced replication includes continuous data replication, stretch metro clustering and automated DR recovery software. Software packages range from $25,000 to $105,000.

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