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if Fusion-io sells more (PCIe SSDs) does that mean Violin will sell less (rackmounts)?

Zsolt Kerekes, editor - November 11, 2011

That's a question asked recently by an analyst in an investment bank. This is of what I said.

Both PCIe and FC SAN / IP SAN rackmount SSDs can coexist in the same customer application. Just because a user starts with one doesn't preclude the other.

My March 2010 article this way to the petabyte SSD noted there will be 3 distinct types of enterprise SSD in the future datacenter . Since then I've expanded this model to add more detail and sub-segments - but overall I think 7 main SSD types will satisfy all future enterprise needs.

PCIe SSDs make the locally attached server faster. But SAN SSDs (including Infiniband) will always be needed for environments (legacy command and control business architectures) where data is shared across more than a threshold number of servers. Another complication is that a PCIe SSD itself can be a component inside a rack such as bunch of cards rack (Nextio) or as an internal cache (NexGen). This is what I call open / COTS array architecture discussed here-

There are differences in logistics for customers.

Is a rack or a card the replacement unit? (if there's a fault)

Different sites will have different preferences.

It is technically possible to design hot replaceable PCIe SSD modules. The concept has been shown to work by OCZ and SANRAD but standards on form factors take years to get established so for now the PCIe SSD market is based on cards. If I have to leave you with 1 single idea about the enterprise SSD market its is that no single vendor or technology will be the ideal solution for the enterprise.

The range of SSD latencies in the pure SSD datacenter of the future will vary by more than 1,000 to 1. (Later - it was much more than that. Even inside a single server - the different types of flash SSD available in SDS implementations was 100 to 1 in 2014 - and heading towards 1,000 to 1 by 2016.)

Design differences mean that the fastest SSD in the user site will always cost significantly more than the higher tiered SSDs.

Auto-tiering will be even more important in the 100% SSD environment. One result from my model is that it is important for SSD oems to understand which market silos they fit in.

If they stray outside (or are unaware of where the market is heading) their technology and marketing will be inefficient compared to companies who have optimized their business (by plan or accident) for the model.

Just because Violin sells more SAN rackmounts doesn't mean that FIO will sell less cards for example.

Selling more PCIe SSDs actually increases future upstream demand for other types of SSDs. Because an SSD accelerated server just looks like a faster server.

Hope that helps

Editor's later notes

Decentralization - is an interesting concept which Fusion-io used in a recent S1 filing document to describe their company - "We have pioneered a next generation storage memory platform for data decentralization."

Without going into too much more detail you can think about this as follows.

Why do users use lots of servers?

Because one server isn't fast enough to do everything they want to do.

But when you have lots of servers - they often need to access the same data. That's how you get into network storage architecture - SANs, NAS etc.

With data - one step removed - the result is longer access times, more complicated backup, management etc.

If you can make a single server run apps 10x or 20x or 100x faster - by stuffing it with high capacity, low latency SSD - then you don't need so many servers (2003 SSD market model).

So in that context - of a medium size installation - what I said at the start of this article isn't strictly true - because you could remove the need for a SAN by crunching up all these "no longer needed" servers and SAN storage into a single box that's easier to replicate.

But what I said later in the email is also true. Because you'd soon find other things you could do to leverage that data. So before too long you'd be adding the SAN and more rackmount storage back on. And this time all the new elements would have to run a lot faster to service the higher IOPS demands of the PCIe SSD accelerated apps hosts.
"...we address the toughest problem in front of IT today - where do I put my flash?!!

Flash can go in so many places it makes your head spin, and the more places you put it, the harder it is to manage it. Fusion IO is telling you to put it in your server, your storage array companies are saying to add it to their already overtaxed storage arrays and use tiering software to figure out your hot data and migrate it there.."
...from:- Hot Rods are Cool Again for Big Data - GridIron blog - April 2012

...Later:- GridIron was acquired by Violin in January 2013. Although Ididn't know that would happen when I placed this reference here on this page.
"7 ways to classify where all SSDs will fit in the pure SSD datacenter"
an introduction to enterprise SSD silos
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There are many segments for enterprise flash arrays which aren't listed or even hinted at in standard models of the enterprise market.

Many of these missing market segments don't even have names.

Hey - that means SSD-world is like a map of the US before Lewis and Clark.

If you're a VC should this make you anxious or happy?
Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise
Update - March 2013
Within 18 months of publishing this article - both Fusion-io and Violin had taken additional product marketing steps to provide more complete offerings to customers thay had acquired on one side of the server and SAN SSD acceleration divide - but who were known to be spending significant budgets in both.

In the case of FIO...

That step was the August 2012 launch of their ION software - which enabled users to convert a standard server and a bunch of PCIe SSDs into a traditional SAN compatible rackmount SSD).

In the case of Violin...

That step was the March 2013 launch of their Velocity PCIe SSD range - marking a long overdue entry into this important segment of the enterprise SSD market. (Although that effort was soon after abandoned.)

However, despite these apparently competing products these 2 SSD companies are mostly selling into apps environments where they are rarely competing head to head for the same purchase order.

Why do I say that?

Violin is mostly better suited to legacy enterprise SSD architectures.

Whereas Fusion-io is better for new dynasty enterprise SSD deployments.

Those are big differences in customer approaches and software even if the headline apps functions may look similar to casual observers.
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Oracle users evenly split between server and SAN when it comes to SSD speedup
Editor:- October 11, 2012 - Among other findings in a survey of 400 attendees (pdf) which was run by Kaminario at the recent Oracle OpenWorld event - it was found that among the 30% of those who had already used flash SSD acceleration - the use of internal (server based) and external (SAN rack based) SSDs was split nearly evenly - 48% and 52% respectively.

See also:- server vs SAN - SSD capacity ratios
"If there are hundreds or thousands of application servers, at what point does it stop making sense adding flash to each server?"
Bernhard Behn, Avere Systems - in his blog - What's Better than Server Flash? - June 7, 2012.

Editor:- this was my response.

re at what point does it stop making sense adding flash to each server?


Because flash in each server means you need less (thousands less) servers due to of CPU-SSD equivalency.

Most enterprise SSD experts I speak to agree you need both.

More flash on the SAN and more in the servers too.

And this is what happens in user sites which have traditional command control type apps and who are on their 3rd, 4th or 7th generation SSD depoloyment. (Its different in democratic server farms like Google.)

For end users who use SSDs for the first time it appears confusing that they can solve their performance pain point (seemingly) with either server OR SAN SSD. But thats just an illusion. It may work tactically but isnt scalable.

A future point of confusion will be when PCIe SSDs scale out to connect to hundreds or thousands of other servers via PCIe. But that architecture will just look like what we already have in Infiniband and wont negate the importance of the SAN.
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