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Infinidat expands beyond HDDs with new all-solid-state array

Infinidat's new all-solid-state InfiniBox SSA storage array is built on the same deep-learning software and DRAM cache technology that its flagship disk-based InfiniBox models use.

The launch of a new all-flash array may be commonplace in the storage industry, but it's hardly routine for Infinidat.

The InfiniBox SSA is the first all-solid-state array for the 10-year-old vendor, based in Israel and the U.S. Infinidat built its business on claims that its petabyte-scale, spinning disk-based storage could compete against all-flash systems on performance at a lower TCO.

While storage system vendors shifted to SSDs to increase performance, Infinidat used slower HDDs on the back end and focused on deep-learning Neural Cache algorithms and DRAM- and NAND flash-based caching layers on the front end to lower latency and speed data reads and writes.

Even though about 95% of the reads on an InfiniBox system come from DRAM that is an order of magnitude faster than flash, some customers started asking for an all-solid-state option to guarantee submillisecond latency on every I/O for demanding database and other important latency-sensitive workloads, according to Infinidat CEO Phil Bullinger.

"This isn't a situation where we say, 'Forget about the product that built the company,'" Bullinger said. "It's an extension of our platform that really is all about being able to service that narrow slice of workloads that, based on their performance expectations, require less than a millisecond latency."

Bullinger said the "sweet spot" for InfiniBox has been high-capacity primary storage for mission-critical workloads requiring 100% availability in the financial, telecommunications, energy, manufacturing and healthcare sectors. Infinidat also does business with cloud service providers, and many of their customers began requesting all-flash storage even when "they may not know why they want it," Bullinger said.

InfiniBox vs. new InfiniBox SSA

The InfiniBox SSA uses the same software and deep-learning algorithms that the HDD-based InfiniBox does, but the all-solid-state F4304S eliminates the Level 2 (L2) cache of SATA SSDs that could hold up to 368 TB. The new array uses only the Level 1 DRAM cache, at 2.3 TB, in three active-active-active front-end nodes that run the Infinidat software and handle the customer's application workloads.

Infinidat InfiniBox SSA
Infinidat introduced its first all-solid-state storage system, the InfiniBox SSA, to complement its disk-based InfiniBox arrays.

"In some ways the product is simpler," Bullinger said. "It uses exactly the same software, exactly the same data path architecture, all the same enterprise features. It's still built around the concept of a front-end DRAM cache. But obviously, with an all-SSD back end, we no longer need that intermediate L2 SSD cache in the middle."

Bullinger said the InfiniBox SSA improves the bandwidth and performance of the networking pipes within the rack to connect the "active-active-active" nodes on the front end to the expansion trays of persistent flash storage at the back end.

The InfiniBox SSA F4304S offers a maximum usable capacity of 546 TB, with SAS SSDs built on triple-level cell flash, and up to 1.092 PB of effective capacity after inline compression and space-efficient snapshots. Infinidat claims the block-only F4304S can deliver 1.5 million IOPS and 25 GiB (26.8 GB) per second of throughput.

By comparison, Infinidat's SAS HDD-based F6300 model -- using up to 3 TB of DRAM cache and 368 TB of flash cache -- can hit 2 million IOPS with NFSv3 file workloads and 1.4 million IOPS with block-based Fibre Channel and iSCSI configurations, according to the spec sheet. The F6300 offers 1 PB to 4 PB of usable capacity and 2.5 PB to 10 PB of effective capacity. Infinidat also sells lower capacity F4300 and F2300 InfiniBox models and an InfiniGuard backup appliance.

Submillisecond latency

Since InfiniBox and InfiniBox SSA both deliver 95% of the data reads from DRAM, the latency is generally 20 microseconds (μs) to 40 μs depending on the workload, according to Bullinger. But if the SSA model has to retrieve data from the back-end storage, the latency would be 200 μs to 300 μs, compared to more than 1 millisecond with the disk-based InfiniBox, he said.

Infinidat customers can "mix and match" the HDD-based InfiniBox and SSD-based InfiniBox SSA "to drive the best TCO" for their application workloads because the systems run the same software, Bullinger said. Infinidat provides tools to help customers move data between the products if, for instance, a workload gets hot, he said.

"We also have a lot of remote monitoring and AI-based ops capabilities that allow a proactive approach to looking at how workloads are performing on our products and, if necessary, taking steps to move the data," Bullinger said. But he said the company has no plans to enable clustering of Infinidat racks through large global namespaces because customers don't require that capability.

Infinidat Field CTO Ken Steinhardt said the products support active-active replication between InfiniBox and InfiniBox SSA systems to "effectively make them look like one single logical system."

"If one of them were to experience any kind of issue, the other would be able to provide continuous operation without any human intervention and any loss of data," he said.

InfiniBox SSA differentiators

Replication and other enterprise storage features, such as immutable snapshots to protect against ransomware, are standard components of the platform and could distinguish InfiniBox SSA in a crowded solid-state array field. But the main differentiator, Steinhardt said, is the deep-learning Neural Cache software that "intelligently figures out what to bring to the fastest component of the system:" the DRAM cache.

"That is our secret sauce," Steinhardt said.

Customers should be able to reduce their TCO by using Infinidat's single-pane management across both SSD- and HDD-based InfiniBox arrays, rather than using separate consoles to manage flash and non-flash storage, said Paul Nashawaty, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. Nashawaty said he expects the InfiniBox SSA to compete against all-flash arrays from vendors such as Dell Technologies, Hitachi Vantara and Pure Storage.

Although InfiniBox SSA formally launched Wednesday, Infinidat has been selling the all-SSD storage array for about six months in the U.S. and Europe. Infinidat declined to provide the starting list price of the InfiniBox SSA. Bullinger simply said the all-SSD back end would change the economics of the platform.

"We're being told anecdotally in most deals that we are competitive with virtually all of the major all-flash arrays and less expensive than the ones that usually are starting to get closer into our performance range," Steinhardt said.

The InfiniBox SSA does not currently support faster NVMe-based PCIe SSDs, as other flash array vendors do. But Bullinger hinted they could be part of a future release. "You can imagine hardware-wise where this roadmap goes from here. An all-NVMe rack is an obvious."

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget. 

Carol Sliwa is a TechTarget senior writer covering storage arrays and drives, flash and memory technologies, and enterprise architecture.

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