A New Wave of On-server Flash Memory

Arthur Cole

It seemed to take a little longer than expected, but the concept of server-based Flash memory has finally caught on, resulting in a flood of new solutions from top manufacturers.

Ever since Fusion-io first brought the concept to the attention of enterprise users, the idea of local cache based on high-speed solid-state memory rather than spinning media has been gaining steam.

EMC is the latest to jump in, coming out with a new line of PCIe cards aimed not so much at providing high-speed cache but to accelerate I/O between servers and back-end storage. More than likely, according to Computerworld, the cards will be based on Intel or Micron technology, or perhaps both considering the two are partners in IM Flash Technologies, which is due to release its P320h Flash card later this year. EMC is also likely to leverage its FAST system (fully automated storage tiering) with the new cards to improve data handling and resource allocation.

Other server and storage OEMS shouldn't have any trouble building Flash into their products, considering the plethora of technologies hitting the channel. Texas Memory Systems, for example, just rolled out the new RamSan-70 card, nicknamed "Gorilla," that provides up to 900 GB of capacity over a 2 Gbps PCIe link. The device is built on Xilinx' field-programmable gate array and contains its own PowerPC processor, which allows it to run management operations internally rather than drawing resources from the host processor.

The movement toward server-based Flash is also having an effect elsewhere in the data environment. LSI Logic recently unveiled its CacheCade system designed to improve I/O performance of current disk-based cache. The system creates virtual drives out of on-server SSDs, and then uses them as a secondary tier for large data sets generated by file/Web servers and databases. The company says it can boost performance by 76 percent without any additional burden to host CPUs, DDRs or OSes. Look for it on Dell's new PowerEdge H700 and H800 RAID controller cards.

It's also possible that on-server SSDs will spur significant changes in the storage industry itself. Note that consumer-grade Flash maker SanDisk recently dropped a cool $327 million for Pliant Technology, signaling a shift into enterprise-grade SSDs. The move brings a host of SAS-based technologies upfront, and what is rumored to be a fairly advanced PCIe development program.

As always when discussing SSD technology, it's important not to go overboard. No one is talking about the end of on-server disk technology, but rather the addition of Flash memory to help with high-speed data handling. The closer that memory is to the host processors, the more efficient the overall data environment.

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