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Vexata fires up NVMe flash storage to tackle analytics

Vexata claims about two dozen customers are using its all-flash NVMe VX storage arrays. Vendor says the product upgrade targets growing need for fast storage in cognitive computing.

NVMe flash storage vendor Vexata has rewired its ignition to enable faster cognition of dense analytics.

The startup last week upgraded its VX-OS operating system for capacity and performance. VX-OS 3.5 allows customers to expand a VX array nondisruptively from 180 TB to nearly half a petabyte in 6U.

Vexata is among a handful of startups with NVMe flash array storage systems designed from scratch for nonvolatile memory express flash technologies. Its cut-through architecture offloads the data path on field programmable gate arrays. Vexata arrays store metadata in DRAM, and Vexata's internal Ethernet fabric parallelizes all data in the system for distributed shared storage. 

NVMe is viewed as a faster alternative to the SCSI protocol. Most established array vendors allow customers to replace SAS and SATA SSDs with NVMe flash drives, although the market for rack-scale flash systems is evolving.

The next phase of development is a fully developed ecosystem for the NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) specification. NVMe-oF enables NVMe message commands to be transferred between a host server and storage array via Ethernet, Fibre Channel or InfiniBand. Today, PCIe-connected NVMe drives require Remote Direct Memory Access for data transfer.

"We are targeting this (product) to cognitive computing, where we increasingly are finding a number of large opportunities. Customers want to talk about AI, machine learning and autonomous systems. These aren't fringe applications. Organizations are mainstreaming this stuff," Vexata CEO Zahid Hussain said.

VX-OS 3.5 was engineered for improved latency on mixed read-write random workloads. Hussain said Vexata storage now can ingest writes at about 1.5 TB per minute, bringing it closer in line with its 3 TB to 4 TB per minute ingest rate on reads.

Most vendors design their all-flash and hybrid arrays with a dedicated clutch of SSDs to cache hot data, plus either disk or flash as back-end storage. Caching speeds performance, but it also limits the size of the working data set. 

Hussain said using up all the NVMe SSDs provides storage for denser computations and can modify data as it is being read.

"The strategy before was to add more controllers, but that would only activate a smaller number of the total available SSDs in the array. We have GPU- ified the whole architecture to solve that problem," Hussain said.

VX-100 NVMe blades double up on capacity

The first iteration of Vexata's array hardware scaled capacity to 180 TB.  VX-OS 3.5 lets existing customers scale capacity up to 64 NVMe SSDs, without re-cabling. Each array can support 16 storage blades that connect directly into the Vexata Ethernet midplane.

The upgrade expands VX-100 arrays to 435 TB in 6U. The system does not use an SSD cache for acceleration or inline data reduction for capacity. All capacity in the system is presented as raw storage.

VX-100 arrays include 16 ports for 32 Gbps Fibre Channel, NVMe over Fibre Channel or NVMe over lossless Ethernet. Each storage blade consists of four SSDs and embedded processing for local scheduling and metadata operations. Vexata supports clones, erasure coding, data protection with RAID 5 and RAID 6 and thin provisioning.

Hussain said customers will be able to get 1 PB in the 6U form factor by the end of 2018 by swapping in 8 TB SSDs .

"Conventional arrays still use x86 controllers and I/O paths that slow down the performance," said Tim Stammers, a senior storage analyst at 451 Research in New York City. "The key thing Vexata is doing is to streamline the SAN architecture to get the most performance possible out of the NVMe storage."

Vexata chief marketing officer, Ashish Gupta, said customers gain about 4 GBs of throughput when a blade is added to the array.

"We're giving you the ability to scale performance and capacity with a single blade addition," Gupta said. "That means you can maintain your cost structure without increasing a whole bunch of controllers, stitching them together, with the operational and computational complexities that come with that."

The VX-OS release adds a feature for managing multiple Vexata chassis with a single pane.

About two dozen customers are using Vexata's NVMe flash storage in production, Hussain said. They include the University of Hawai'i's Pacific Disaster Center, payroll processing outfit Tata Consultancy Services, and Oath Inc., the digital media subsidiary of Verizon Communications.

"They have managed to get some production deployments already," Stammers said. "There are quite a few types of application for very fast purpose-designed NVMe storage. The market isn't moving at a rapid pace at the moment, but there is demand [growing] for this type of extremely fast, purpose-designed NVMe storage."

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