playing the enterprise SSD box riddle gameby
editor - June 6, 2013
read - The Hobbit - then
you'll be familiar with the concept of the riddle game. |
similar is playing out now in the enterprise flash array market.
setting? I forgot to mention this.
The hero - a mythical hobbit-like
creature called "User" is trapped in a high gravity well /
force-field - just outside the entrance to a cave in which are stored great
treasures. The force-field - which prevents User entering - is the legacy
from an earlier age of steam-punk computing - whose origins no-one is able to
remember. The legends say that if User can answer 3 questions correctly from
a wizard who appears at the mouth of the cave - User can get in, grab the
treasure and move on up to a higher plane of existence. Each time User answers
correctly - he can take a step forward.
The rules? There are almost
in the "SSD rackmount riddle game" - but if there were - they
might be something like this.
Before asking each question the wizard
grabs a very plain looking smooth black metal box - and disappears from sight
into the back of the cave where he carefully picks some mushrooms and then
stoops to collect some special little crystalline rocks from a corner - all
of which he tosses into the box before sealing the lid and shaking it all
up. (User can sometimes hear the rattling while he's doing it. This adds to
the nervous tension). After some more rattling and sometimes a mysterious clang
- the wizard adds a magic spell to bind it all together and reappears back at
the mouth of the cave to ask User the next question.
The SSD riddle
game has been running for a long time. Each time User gives the wrong answers -
he has to wait another year for the wizard to appear - and then restart the 3
questions again from the beginning. But on the plus side (and this is what
makes the game playable) User is alloweed to remember earlier answers.
1st question is... What is the box?
The 2nd questions is... What does
And the 3rd question is... What will my next box look like?
a lot of Users have been successful answering the 1st question. The answer -
in case you haven't already guessed is... It's an SSD rack.
But only a
small number of Users have got as far as guessing the answer to the 2nd
question .. What does it do? That's because the wizard gets bored and changes
what he puts in the box. And sometimes he time-shares this part of the game with
another wizard. And User can't easily tell these wizards apart.
Users have accidentally guessed what sounded like the right answer to
question #2 - by either asking the wizard if he could speed things up a bit? -
Or saying - Time. Give me more time.
But the enigmatic wizard doesn't
want to make this game too easy. And so for reasons known best to himself
each time he goes back to the cave is - he picks up a different assortment
of chips and mushrooms to put in the box. And just to be on the safe side -
before he shakes it all - he casts a different binding spell.
won't be surprised to learn that almost no-one has ever been able to guess the
correct answer to question #3 - what will my next box look like?
touched before on the growing complexities of technical
segmentation in the
enterprise SSD market - and
concerns about roadmap
For many enterprise Users - the question - can you
guess what will my next SSD box will look like? - bears a striking resemblance
to the unfairness of Gollum - when he says - what has it got in its pocketses -
When Users play the riddle game with enterprise SSD
vendors - it's difficult enough to win the game when the SSD wizard plays fair
and emerges from the cave with just one box and offers some helpful clues.
But in real life - there are many identical looking wizards emerging from the
same cave - and often they're carrying more than one box.
So it was
refreshing earlier this week talking to Max Riggsbee, VP of
Product Management and CMO Whiptail about the
thinking behind their vision and roadmap for their rackmount SSD product
The company recently
details related to 2 different products.
- A new entry level ($20K floor price) fast-enough
1U iSCSI SSD - which is
aimed at the branch office environment. The WT-1100 is a 1U 100K IOPS system
with upto 4TB capacity which will ship in the next quarter. Internally it uses
enterprise SSDs from SanDisk.
Max Riggsbee told me that Whiptail realized it
needed a different business model to efficiently meet all the different types
of needs for networked SSD storage which it was seeing from customers. And
this couldn't be done with a single product or a single route to market.
However, all of Whiptail's racks share the same back-end software and true
enterprise reliability features.
- Clarification of the roadmap and a July shipping date for Whiptail's
previously announced highest- end controller architecture which the company
calls INFINITY - which uses
InfiniBand as the
fabric to interconnect clumps of storage racks. This will provide low
latency - even when the installed storage is scaled up to the current maximum
group size of 6 INVICTA arrays in a 360TB, 4 million IOPS, 40GB/s
The entry level model - the WT-1100
- will be sold by channel partners. The idea is that a branch office or small
enterprise doesn't have to sacrifice enterprise grade SSD reliability just
because it only needs a smaller capacity system. To simplify the setup for
integrators and resellers - these systems are supported by an installation
wizard. (The good kind.)
For application silos which need higher
performance and more SSD capacity (the traditional
FC SAN market) the entry
level route to access Whiptail's systems will still be the INVICTA range. If
customers need to expand their fast SSD capacity - they can scale up to a 30
node configuration which protects their storage investment and which is managed
by the same unified software.
Going back to my introduction... And the
mythical User who is growing increasingly frustrated - because he genuinely
wants to escape from his predicament and move on up to the next plane of
What do we think
It's important for SSD rackmount vendors to make their
products easy to recognize (question #1), to be easily comprehensible (question
#2) and for future directions from suppliers to be easy to anticipate
Whiptail's marketing strategy can be interpreted in this
If User only cares about iSCSI - the answer to questions 1 and 2
are easy. - It's an iSCSI SSD box. And you buy it from the same kind of people
you buy your other iSCSI stuff from. If you ever need more complicated stuff -
Whiptail does that too. But you don't have to get into those other mysteries
unless you really want to. As to question 3 - what will the next entry level
box look like? (A clue here is that
SanDisk is an investor
in Whiptail - and these new systems use SanDisk enterprise SSDs.) So an
easy answer to question #3 is - future boxes will get more competitively
If User's preoccupations are high end SAN compatible SSD
storage - however - User easily knows enough to guess #1 and #2. As to
question #3 - it will probably still have Infiniband as its internal fabric.
Whiptail's systems currently 40Gbps IB. An there's a whole industry with a
vested interest in keeping IB scalable and fast - so that should be a safe
choice for several more years.
(IB isn't the only choice for
clustering scalable SSD racks -
PCIe may be an
alternative competitor - but we don't have to worry about that in this context.)
Max Riggsbee told me - that even if Whiptail changes the internal flash makeup
in their storage nodes (as they have already done a few times before) their
software and the IB fabric means means their INFINITY systems should be able to
accomodate future nodes.
This means if User is trying to guess
what the next high-end box from Whiptail looks like - a reasonable guess is -
it will be compatible, scale upwards in capacity, performance, and
competitiveness and still work with the same kind of software - even if the
rocks and mushrooms inside are different to what User has seen before.
the fastest SSDs
SSD Buyers Guide
this way to the Petabyte
/ auto-caching SSD appliance news
the box - new trends in rackmount SSDs