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Key performance enablers inside the RamSan-630

Editor:- in January 2011 - Texas Memory Systems announced the availability of 8Gbps fibre-channel interfaces for its RamSan-630 - fast 10TB 3U rackmount SLC SSDs - which came to market in April 2010 with 4Gb FC.

Each unit can be configured with upto 10 independent 8Gb FC ports for a total data transfer rate of 8 GBytes / sec. Ports can be mixed - with the previously available (and 25% faster) InfiniBand.

Editor's comments:- prior to the launch I spoke to Jamon Bowen, Director of Sales Engineering for TMS - and learned a lot about the internal design and architecture of this SSD which the company has never revealed before.

Firstly - on the business front - fibre-channel SAN SSDs - which the company has been selling for over 10 years - still accounts for the majority of their SSD business. And their primary market is customers who have legacy applications (rather than new dynasty) that they want to run faster. In the who is your customer? debate - Jamon said their main customers are the applications owners rather than the infrastructure people - but he said when you bring a solution to your customer it still has to tick all the boxes and work with the existing software (mainly Oracle) and hardware that's already in place. Latency, throughput and reliability are the key features in this market.

In the past TMS hasn't talked much about the details of its designs. But Holly Frost who founded the company 33 years ago - and who still plays an active part in steering the electronic designs in the company - has decided that it's a good idea to talk more about the internals of their products - to demonstrate their leadership and show why their products can work better than others.

My notes below summarize what I learned in an hour of conversation. I asked Jamon if he could follow this up later with a more detailed whitepaper. In the past TMS kept their SSD design details confidential to stop competitors learning how they had solved performance problems.

The best way to think about the RamSan-630 - is as a router (or communications pipe) which is designed to transfer data at high speed and low latency from the host network interface to and from the flash memory array which has 14Gbytes/s usable bandwidth. The typical 3U box includes 26 powerPC processors and 1,600 flash memory chips. The architecture on the motherboard comes from the company's DSP and array processing roots. The on-board processors connect to the flash array via a very fast serially connected non blocking cross-bar switch matrix.

To maximize the flash I/O performance seen by the host servers - TMS's FC HBAs use its own design of ASICs instead of 3rd party chips. Each HBA has an FPGA which does block management in raw hardware - as well as a fast local processor - which handles the niceties such as error management. These HBAs have DMA access to the flash SSD array - and are designed so that multiple ports can operate together to provide a single faster virtual connection.

That's where you start to understand the performance differences between this TMS product and other FC SAN SSDs. Because in most other FC SSD systems the "SSD box" is really a conventional server with industry standard HBAs. It's impossible for those products to achieve the same low latencies and sustained throughput - even though the datasheet or benchmark specs might suggest that aggregate numbers are similar. Of course - all this hardware comes at a cost. And the silicon intensive nature of the TMS designs means that - part of the design cost has to be amortized in each unit - in a similar way to what happens in the merchant SSD controller market. Because you have to pay the wages of the talent. - When I said that Jamon laughed and said - don't forget you've got to pay for the marketers and sales people too.

As usual - when I talk to SSD companies - our time slot overran - and I learned some new stuff - as part of my ongoing unique one on one industry funded private SSD education course. I hope he made it to his flight.
image shows Megabyte doing the data round up - click to see SAN storage area networks directory There will always be a market for these high speed SSD accelerators in the SAN - because the alternative is delivering data late.
click for more info about the RamSan-630 SSD
RamSan-630 - 1 miilion IOPS
10TB FC / InfiniBand SLC flash SSD
from Texas Memory Systems
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