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OCZ beefs up SQL Accelerator drives, adds remote flash cache

Key to OCZ's new SQL Accelerator is Direct Pass Caching software that abstracts data at the block level.

Toshiba subsidiary OCZ Storage Solutions this week rolled out ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5, adding remote flash cache and file-level acceleration of Microsoft SQL Server.

Remote flash caching allows servers to use PCIe flash running on another device. The ZD-XL SQL Accelerator enables SQL Server to run on blades or rack-mounted servers and access storage via PCIe flash installed on commodity appliances. Remote flash augments the local flash caching included in the inaugural SQL Accelerator released in 2013.

ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5 is a plug-and-play appliance geared primarily toward enterprises that use SQL Server databases for online transaction processing or heavy-duty data analytics. It caches the hottest database files in PCIe flash for rapid retrieval.

The technology behind it is Direct Pass Caching Technology, which partitions PCIe flash cards and presents memory as a local flash volume, a flash cache for hard disk drive volumes or combination of the two. Direct Pass software abstracts data at the block level to identify frequently accessed files and writes commands to store that data in flash.

Version 1.0 accelerated only at a volume level, which required SQL Server DBAs to be familiar with LUNs and other storage nomenclature.

"One of the key design parameters for our upgrade was to make the DBA's life simpler, so he can focus on his charter of making sure business applications never go down," said Michael Yam, the international director of OEM and enterprise sales at OCZ.

Yam said the latest iteration aligns with Microsoft's Buffer Pool Extension (BPE) service, which was introduced with the April release of SQL Server 2014. High-availability applications get fetched directly from BPE rather than database files.

The new version also uses flash to support multiple virtual machines running concurrent SQL Server 2014 workloads, including VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors. ZD-XL Accelerator version 1.0 was designed for standalone SQL Server machines.

OCZ architected the drives with multi-level cell NAND flash technology from Toshiba, which acquired OCZ for $35 million in December 2013. The device integrates hardware, software and drivers and carries a five-year warranty. Three capacities are available: an 800 GB drive priced at $2,944, a 1.6 terabyte (TB) drive priced at $4,758 and a 3.2 TB drive priced at $8,167.

Eric Slack, an analyst at Storage Switzerland, said OCZ is building on a common use case for enterprise flash -- accelerating databases.

"One of the things we like to see with new products is features and functionality that are chosen for a specific environment," he said. "In this case, OCZ's software effectively lets you support blade servers, VMware and Hyper-V hypervisors, as well as high availability functionality with Microsoft's AlwaysOn technology. That gives a nice package for hosting or high-density environments."

The Direct Pass Cache software comes preloaded with policies and best practices for specific analytic and transaction workloads, pushing intelligence closer to storage, Slack said. "You've heard the term application awareness," he said. "This product is farther along that same curve."

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