Software-Defined Storage: Fusion-io Software Creates Shared Flash Storage

Fusion-io introduced software that allows its high-performance PCIe-based flash memory technology to be used as shared memory over a network.

The company also sees its software as an early step into software-defined storage, a part of the software-defined data center concept wherein all the virtualized storage, server, networking and security resources required by an application can be defined by software and provisioned automatically.

With the new ION Data Accelerator software, solution providers can install Fusion-io's ioMemory modules into any industry-standard server, and it becomes available to multiple users over the network with almost no loss in performance, said David Flynn, CEO and chairman of the Salt Lake City-based company.

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Fusion-io's ioMemory products are flash-based devices that plug into a server's PCIe connector where it can run an application and some or all of that applications data at nearly the same speed as the server's memory.

However, sitting on a PCIe bus typically limits its use to applications running on that server, Flynn said. "The challenge is people like to share data over multiple applications and systems and make it available for replication," he said.

Fusion-io's answer is to use its ION Data Accelerator software to allow the ioMemory module to sit in a separate server where it can be accessed by multiple applications, Flynn said. "It's the culmination of a lot of effort to make shared non-volatile memory available over a traditional network with almost no loss in performance," he said.

With the software, solution providers can take any off-the-shelf industry-standard server, install the ioMemory and software, and connect it to a network, at which point it looks and behaves like a SAN, Flynn said.

Because Fusion-io does not provide the server, solution providers can work with their vendor of choice and can upgrade the server as new technology becomes available, he said. The software offers over 1 million I/Os per second with up to 6-GB-per-second throughput and a latency of under 0.6 milliseconds.

"This is the fastest-performing networked flash device on the planet," he said.

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Keith Norbie, vice president of sales and vendor management at Nexus, the Minnetonka, Minn. office of Stratos Management Services, an Atlanta-based solution provider and Fusion-io partner, said he sees the ION Data Accelerator software as a move towards the software-defined data center because it makes Fusion-io's application acceleration technology available on demand as a shared resource.

"A lot of people will say, I want CPUs in one rack, disk in another rack, flash in another rack, and then scale from there," Norbie said. "The devil is in the details. Kudos to Fusion-io for taking the next step with this technology. The software-defined data center is where people want to go."

Fusion-io's ION Data Accelerator is in line with how VMware in May laid out its concept of the software-defined data center, Norbie said.

"Software will define the resources and how to use them," he said. "People won't want resources provisioned in traditional packages. Instead, they'll want more dynamically provisioned, pay-as-you-go resources."

Fusion-io's Flynn said the ION Data Accelerator provides software-defined storage in that it plays the role that large storage vendors' storage systems currently play.

"It defines cloud computing and big data with a pool of servers that use software alone to define their behaviors to perform network and storage functions," he said. "We're moving storage into open server systems with the right software to perform the data center storage function."

Woody Hutsell, senior director of product management for Fusion-io, said data protection in the ION server comes from the company's Virtual Storage Layer (VSL), with features that ensure data coming into the ION server is synchronously committed to the ioMemory device before sending out the acknowledgement it was received. Data stored on the ioMemory devices is also protected by error code correction (ECC) technology.

Options include a RAID-10 storage pool for mirroring data between multiple modules and mirroring two ION servers for redundancy, Hutsell said.

The software is available in limited release at $3,900 per server regardless of how much capacity it controls. General availability is slated for October. Flynn said solution providers can add the ioMemory modules and ION Data Accelerator software to their own servers, or they can work with Greenville, S.C.-based distributor Synnex, which will do the integration.