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E8 Storage brings out 'software-defined DSSD' NVMe array

E8 Storage comes out of stealth promising to improve performance of direct-attached solid-state drives with new all-flash appliance.

E8 Storage is entering the all-flash storage market with an appliance that will cram 24 NVMe SSDs into a 2U box. The vendor promises its SSDs will perform with the same latency and throughput as those attached directly to a host.

E8 Storage CEO Zivan Ori calls the E8-D24 array "software-defined DSSD," referring to EMC's rack-scale flash box. The difference, he said, is E8 uses off-the-shelf Ethernet switching and cabling and includes software to handle RAID 6, dynamic LUN and thin provisioning, and network quality of service.

"The main type of product we're competing with is the local SSD," Ori said. "SSDs used as local storage inside servers give good performance and are cost-effective because there's no storage array, no Fibre Channel network and little overhead. The problem with that approach is you're giving up high availability and reliability. You're basically saying the application will take care of replication, snapshots, recovery, and things like that. That approach would make sense if there is only one application in the data center. But if I have more than one -- which is inevitably the case for everyone -- then I do need an appliance to supply storage functionality."

The D24 holds up to 24 4 TB 2.5-inch NVMe SSDs for 70 TB of usable storage. Ori expects to pack in 140 TB usable next year by adding 8 TB SSDs. He said the system can support 100 servers per rack. Dual controller boards give the D24 high availability, and software handles the storage management. Some software features, such as replication and snapshots, didn't make the first D24 release.

E8 is going after SQL and NoSQL database workloads, real-time data analytics, hyperscale data centers, fast block storage, and high-performance computing. The D24 is in beta now, and Ori said he expects it to become generally available by the end of 2016.

It's a goal of ours to unlock the true performance of SSDs, which usually do not perform as well inside arrays as they do when directly attached to servers.
Zivan OriCEO, E8 Storage

Ori claims 10 million read and four million write IOPS, sub-100 microsecond read latency and 40 Gigabit per second read and 20 Gbps write latency for the D24. The design goal was to have little or no degradation of SSD performance as is the case with all-flash arrays.

"It's a goal of ours to unlock the true performance of SSDs, which usually do not perform as well inside arrays as they do when directly attached to servers," Ori said. "If you put 10 or 20 SSDs in a box, you should be able to get the aggregate throughput and bandwidth of those 10 or 20 SSDs."

E8 competes in high-density, low-latency SSD market

IDC Research storage research director Eric Burgener said the all-flash market is diverging into several classes of storage, and E8 is among one of the emerging classes.

The most common remains block-oriented all-SSD arrays for block storage, such as EMC's XtremIO, Pure Storage's FlashArray and NetApp's All-Flash FAS. A second category is emerging for scale-out file and block storage, usually using customer flash modules. That category includes IBM FlashSystem A9000 and Pure's FlashBlade.

Burgener puts E8 Storage in a third category of dense systems capable of more than 10 million IOPS and sub-100 microsecond latency for the most performance-needy apps, such as real-time data analytics. Others in E8's category are EMC's DSSD D5 and startup Apeiron Data Systems' ADS1000, a 2U 24-drive storage system that supports NVMe over Ethernet and scales out with software handling failover and automatic replication.

"But E8 has a very different cost structure than DSSD," Burgener said. "E8 says anybody thinking of using local SSDs should look at its product. This includes people looking at hyper-converged. E8 provides a disaggregated storage model that can scale compute and storage independently. That's one of the things you can't do with hyper-converged."

Ori didn’t divulge pricing for the D24 but said it comes in at considerably less than DSSD's million-dollar price tag. Much of the price comes from its use of standard Ethernet switching, host bus adapters and cabling. DSSD requires proprietary network switching and cabling.

"It's almost like we have an unfair advantage in having started after DSSD," Ori said. "When DSSD started in 2010 (EMC acquired DSSD in 2014), they did not have NVMe drives and 100 Gigabit Ethernet networks available. They had to design all that themselves. They ended up with a complex, tightly integrated proprietary hardware product."

Ori said E8 Storage is not going head-to-head with DSSD or the traditional flash arrays.

"We're not going after the same market," he said. "We're after customers looking to put an E8 box in every rack of compute. DSSD cannot compete in that market with a 5U box."

The D24 supports 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) and 100 GigE.

E8 uses its own Ethernet protocol that runs both in the D24 and on a driver installed in servers. Ori said this approach is "inspired by NVMe over Fabrics," but E8 stops short of supporting the emerging NVMe over Fabrics spec because it is not yet mature enough.

"Our protocol split between application servers and the box is similar to NVMe over Fabrics," Ori said. "But NVMe over Fabrics only standardizes access, it only tells you how to read and write from a remote SSD. NVMe over Fabrics doesn't take care of storage functions like our protocol does. When NVMe over Fabrics becomes more common and stable, we might use it, but that's not the situation today."

E8 founders Ori and vice president of research and development Alex Friedman came from IBM's XIV storage array team. E8's development team is in Israel, but the company headquarters is in Santa Clara, Calif., and it will start out with sales focused 100% in the United States.

E8 Storage has $18 million in funding from Accel Partners, Magma Venture Partners and Vertex Ventures.

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