New Sun Storage: Quick as a Flash

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A few weeks ago, we highlighted some of the issues that enterprises are running into when trying to integrate solid-state disks (SSDs) into existing storage arrays.


It turns out that much of the throughput benefits of the devices is wasted because most arrays cannot keep up with their high I/O capabilities and have difficulty integrating data sets and managing volumes on the new tier. Now it seems Sun Microsystems is taking dead aim at this problem with a new line of flash-based storage arrays designed for heavy workload environments.


The new Sun Storage F5100 array doesn't use actual SSDs, but it offers a fully integrated Flash-based storage system designed primarily to accelerate the performance of Oracle and MySQL databases. What's most interesting, though, is not the fact that it only takes up a single rack space and can perform 1.6 million read and 1.2 million write IOPS on up to 2 TB of storage, but that it incorporates the company's Zettabyte File System (ZFS) to create a hybrid storage pool across Flash, disk and even tape resources. They've essentially made adding a Flash tier to existing storage as easy as spinning up a series of new platters -- except that the F5100, running at about 300 watts, offers the equivalent throughput of 3,000 hard drives that would take up 14 racks and burn through close to 40,000 watts.


About the only question here is: What took so long? It's not like enterprise-level Flash or the ZFS system are exactly new technologies. And the company has been touting the integration potential of the platform for more than a year, not only as a means to integrate Flash into storage pools, but to overcome the technology's poor reliability factor by providing automatic fail-over across all levels of storage -- regardless of whether the problem is mechanical or due to write-fatigue.


Of course, Sun, and by extension Oracle, have made no secret of their desire to take on IBM in the high-end database market. So the timing of the F5100 probably has a lot to do with IBM's launch of a new version of its DB2 system, known as Pure Scale, to compete with new Exadata 2 platform. Both the F5100 and a new series of Sparc T2+ servers should produce a major performance boost for the Exadata system in the coming year.


It's expected that both companies are going to beat each other up over performance benchmarks, scalability factors and just general "my-database-is-better-than-your-database" warfare over the next few months.


But in terms of a true architectural breakthrough, we have to give this round to Sun. Putting Flash on a level playing field with existing storage technology will probably have more impact on overall data center performance as anything we've seen this year.