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AMI introduces StorTrends 3600i line of all-flash arrays

The StorTrends 3600i iSCSI SAN arrays feature a split architecture that writes to enterprise MLC SSDs while maintaining a read tier of consumer-grade MLC drives.

American Megatrends Inc. this week expanded its flash portfolio, rolling out the StorTrends 3600i series of iSCSI SAN all-flash arrays.

The 3600i series follows American Megatrends Inc.'s (AMI) January 2014 launch of the StorTrends 3500i hybrid array. The 3600i is the first flash-only StorTrends platform, although customers can buy the 3500i fully populated with solid-state drives (SSDs).

The new StorTrends all-flash series includes the entry-level 3600i model that scales to 64 TB of raw storage and the 3610i with a maximum raw capacity of 256 TB. Both boxes come in 3U rack sizes with 16 drive bays.

The small-footprint 3600i comes with 16 cores and 64 GB of RAM. The 3610i has 32 cores and consumes 192 GB of memory. The boxes are iSCSI-only, and include a 1 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) port and four 10 GbE ports.

Justin Bagby, the director of the StorTrends division at AMI, said the sweet spot for the all-flash platform is businesses with 10 TB to 256 TB of primary storage.

"Most small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. are using spinning disk. We're pushing them to convert centralized storage from hybrid to all-flash," he said.

Splitting read and write tiers   

The StorTrends 3600i arrays are designed with "split architecture" that includes a write-optimized tier of enterprise-class multilevel cell SATA SSDs and a read-intensive back-end tier of consumer-grade MLC NAND SSDs. Dell uses a similar architecture for its Compellent all-flash drives, using more expensive single-level cell drives for writes and MLC drives for reads.

The baseline 3600i model features a write tier consisting of either two or four SATA SSDs and a read tier of either 12 or 14 MLC drives. The 3610 can be configured with four or six SATA drives and 10 or 12 MLC SSDs.

The write tier uses SSDs in 200 GB, 400 GB, 800 GB and 1 TB capacities and supports up to 10 drive-writes per day. Read-intensive drives use SSDs that come in 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB and 1 TB capacities.

StorTrends uses a proprietary algorithm called Enlift Cache to buffer all writes to high-end SSDs and prolong the life of less expensive flash. Enlift Cache sits in the write tier and profiles changes to block-level storage to guard against overprovisioning writes in the read tier.

"Enlift Cache is our bread and butter. It's how we guarantee the endurance of the drives," Bagby said.

AMI's all-flash arrays include inline data deduplication with an estimated 6:1 data-reduction ratio. StorTrends deduplicates data first, and then compresses it once. Deduplication occurs only at the 4K block level, with no post-processing or garbage collection. The dedupe engine splits the hash table, reserving hot data in upstream RAM to speed lookups.

Beta tester Cross IT Services and Solutions replaced spinning-disk arrays with the StorTrends 3610i. The computer consulting firm previously used flash only for caching or to accelerate its VMware virtual desktops.

"We were having a lot of problems with drives failing at the five-year mark. The idea came up to replace our existing production array and move it to disaster recovery and backup functions," said technical services manager Ryan Kelly.

Kelly said the StorTrends deduplication and compression added value to the arrays.

AMI said StorTrends all-flash arrays range in price from $25,000 to $150,000. Customers can boost capacity with expansion shelves that contain six 2 TB write drives and 10 1 TB read drives for physical storage of 22 TB. One shelf could be added to the 3600i, while the 3610i can support four enclosures.

AMI also modified its iDATA analytic software to detect the number of writes a customer performs each year. The iDATA tool analyzes storage for seven days and extrapolates the data to help customers size which drives to use for the write tier. Also new is a deduplication crawler added to iDATA, which searches for comparably sized data blocks across databases and returns an estimated deduplication ratio.

The iDATA software is not included in the operating system. Users can download it from AMI's website.

Jeff Kato, a storage analyst with the Taneja Group, said AMI is trying to accelerate the adoption of flash by SMBs and midmarket enterprises. He said StorTrends is targeting different customers than the enterprises eyed by all-flash array startups.

"From a price perspective, SSDs are quickly crossing over to mainstream use. StorTrends is on to something with its unique algorithm to make consumer-grade flash good enough to use for SMBs," Kato said.

Because of the market it targets, Kato said he thinks StorTrends will likely compete for customers with hyper-convergence vendors rather than large storage vendors' all-flash systems.

"StorTrends picked a beachhead of SMBs and midmarket companies," Kato said. "I don't see them going into [an EMC] VNX shop and displacing it. But their existing customers and those just getting into flash for the first time could find their cost and feature set attractive. The question is: Will their IP be sustainable over the long haul?"

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