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An SSD conversation with Tegile

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - June 23, 2014
conversation Tegile logo - click for more info
By instinct I'm more interested in pure solid state storage products than hybrid drives or hybrid arrays - so 20 months ago (in October 2012) when Rob Commins, VP of Marketing Tegile Systems contacted me to ask about the Top 20 SSD Companies List - and whether I kept an eye on hybrid array vendors - what I literally said was this.

"In recent years my view has been that hybrid auto acceleration systems (SSD ASAPs) do have a long term place in pure enterprise solid state storage (as described in my paper - an introduction to enterprise SSD silos). But some products which have been optimized around the temporary (5-6 year) market tactical role of working with HDDs are better able to make to transition to pure solid state hybrids than others. We (by which I mean my readers and I) are more interested in products and architectures which look like they will survive and adapt into the pure SSD world. We have much less interest in systems which include HDDs."

If that sounds like it's kind of defensive and dismissive it is.

That kind of conversation is even shorter today because nowadays I'm talking to over 600 real SSD companies - and I can't spare much time for the hundreds of other companies which aren't even committed enough about solid state storage to put SSDs into every slot in their box.

Anyway - going back to Rob Commins and Tegile...

Although we kept in touch after that first encounter - and I spoke to Rob and some other people connected with Tegile from time to time - the time budget which I allocated to learning about Tegile and my editorial coverage of his company - was fairly skimpy for the next 15 months or so - until - surprise! surprise! - the 4th quarter of 2013 - when enough of my readers had picked up on my minimal coverage of Tegile up to that point to propel the company into entered the Top 20 SSD Companies List.

At which point - despite my reservations about hybrid arrays which use COTS SSDs - I had to sit up and take notice.

So in that edition of the list - published in January 2014 - I observed that...

"Tegile Systems (ranked #19 in Q4 2013) is the highest ranked vendor in this edition of the Top SSD Companies List whose primary business is hybrid SSD arrays - rather than SSD drives or SSD systems."

And so I started paying a bit more attention to Tegile. Because when enough of my readers show a disproportionately high interest in something - that must mean there's something to it. (Even if I have missed the early signals myself.)

How easy is it to recognize the portents of those rare companies which emerge from stealth or crowd but have the potential for SSD stardom?

In the case of some new unknown companies (like the early SandForce, or Violin or Fusion-io or Skyera) it was obvious to me from the very first conversations I had with those companies that that what they were doing would resonate with a large proportion of people in the SSD market. The only thing which took me by surprise in those earlier cases was the speed of your response.

But it can also happen that a company - like Tegile - which I initially think of as doing stuff which is a bit samey - and which I don't think too much about at first contact - plants roots in enough of your minds - by the things they do - which results in high search volumes which leads me to look again at what they're doing - and look for a possible cause or narrative which I may have missed the first time around.

That's one of my safety nets.

And in the case of some companies - it works so well that I start watching out for an important news story - hours or days before I get it in my email.

Anyway - going back to Tegile - once they hit the Top SSD Companies List - I started paying more attention.

And when that status sustained and improved slightly in the following quarter too - despite the company not doing anything which to me seemed out of the ordinary - I thought I'd better talk again to Rob Commins and educate myself a bit more about his company.

Which is how we got to this article you're reading now.

I warned Rob in advance - I'm not interested in any new products you may be launching. And especially not hybrids. I can read about those on your web site.

Just stick to telling tell me more about your technology and the way you do business.

Because I know there's something you're doing which I'm missing - but which has been making waves with my readers.

Anyway - that's what led to a recent conversation in which I learned some new (to me) things about Tegile's technology and Tegile's business model - which are different to what I expected.

Tegile's hybrid array technology - the different thing

To preface this I have to mention that when you've seen as many SSD caching, tiering, compression and dedupe products as I have - you realize that all of them are permutations of the same handful of architectural possibilities. So I'm not going to go into any of the details here.

The key differences I learned - compared to the options I expected were:-
  • Their system has a lot of RAM (compared to some other skinnier flash arrays).
  • So a lot of the thrashing around activity - which you expect to see in this kind of system - which is related to the metadata - occurs in the RAM. The result is better performance (than if it was all stuck together) and lower R/W demands on the flash array (which gives better reliability).
Tegile slider metaphor for increasing flash ratio
  • Users can vary the proportion of flash to HDD they buy in their systems - but they can also vary the ratio they deploy - in the configurations they have already purchased too.

    Tegile has a slider switch graphic as the metaphor for this concept. (click to expand the image)
  • The same system software runs in Tegile's hybrids as in their pure flash arrays.
I realized when talking to Rob that their storage array behaves - in effect - like a micro-cloud in a box which is under the users' control.

Rob said that cloud utility model is something which Tegile leverages in the way it does business. And that's what took me on to the business model.
Tegile flash SSD array - click for more info
product overview - IntelliFlash Storage Arrays
from Tegile
Tegile's business model - the different thing

Rob told me that some time ago Tegile realized that although customers preferred to buy the cheapest system they think they need (with a higher ratio of HDD to SSD) some of these same customers - if given the freedom to switch on a higher ratio of flash (if it was already in the array) would experiment with using more of the flash enhanced virtual features - and having learned to like the results they got - would settle at a higher enabled flash ratio than maybe they would have initially purchased.

That's why the company came up with a concept the called Agility Pricing.

With Agility Pricing - selected customers can opt to pay for their storage arrays on a utility model - in which they pay for the virtual storage they use rather than the raw storage which is installed in the box which Tegile supplies them.

The financial decoupling is handled by a traditional type of finance company.

But in effect - this scheme means that Tegile can leverage its cleverness at magnifying virtual storage from deploying its flash and software utilization IP - in a business model which is transparent to the customer and which can generate revenue in proportion to the efficiency of Tegile's array architecture.

From the viewpoint of resellers - who sign up such customers - the reseller gets rewarded in a similar way to if they sold the system.

Depending on the customer and their applications - this could mean users would be paying under 5 cents per virtual GB per month.

In effect - Tegile puts virtual flash capacity and software in at one end and gets a guaranteed revenue stream out at the other.

I said I thought that was a brilliant business idea.

That kind of flash to dollars pipe used to be the exclusive domain of the SSD speed kings - but now - while sticking resolutely in the SSD slow lane - Tegile has invented a new formula which converts SSD software trickiness and marketing savvy into a business proposition which anyone can understand.

I could also see how Tegile's initial immersion in the hybrid array market gave them advantages compared to pure play SSD array vendors - when it comes to understanding the needs of customers in the low end and mid range of the enterprise market.

By offering a continuum of price and performance in the same product line Tegile gets exposure and business from customers from a wider spectrum of markets and use cases than vendors of traditional monolithic SSD arrays.

Traditional rackmount SSD vendors (which Tegile now competes with as Tegile moves up market to pure flash arrays) have mostly started at the high end of the market with very fast systems and are now trying to move down the cost and performance curve - which they can accomplish from the technology point of view.

But SSD vendors moving down the budget food chain lack a true market understanding of user issues in these entry level and mid range projects. The business credibility problems they face are a bit like when the minicomputer companies in the early 1980s tried to market PCs - such as the DEC Rainbow 100 - which was admirable when you saw it at a trade show - but utterly unaffordable because it included too many useless features which were put there to demonstrate how clever its engineers were - rather than to meet genuine PC customer needs.

the power of try after you buy

The flexibility of Tegile's technology (in particular the ability to change the characteristics of the usable capacity by experimenting with ratios of HDD : SSD compression etc) means that users can learn more about their own needs and find their own best comfort zone for operating their storage in a relatively risk free and low cost way.

And - just as important - from my point of view - Tegile's technology - which enables them to magnify the usable virtual capacity - and to monetize it in an acceptable way - works in a pure SSD storage context too.


In this conversation I learned more about Tegile's internal cloud like technology. But I was even more impressed by a new (to me) business model which Tegile has been testing on selected customers.

I can see now why the early investors liked this company even though it took me longer to get it - because I have a rule of thumb filter which predisposes me to discount the relevance of companies don't have their own flash controller IP and whose storage arrays are mostly populated by hard drives.

Here are some related links:-
  • SSD ASAPs (Auto-tuning SSD Accelerated Pools of storage)
Hmm... it looks like you're seriously interested in SSDs. So please bookmark our home page - - and come back again soon.
About the publisher - 22 years guiding the enterprise market
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