EMC Rolls Out PCIe Flash-Based Storage Technology

EMC on Monday introduced a new PCIe Flash-based storage solution that sits in servers and works with external arrays to increase storage performance across multiple tiers from the server to the cloud.

EMC's new VFCache, which was first introduced last year as "Project Lightning," brings the vendor's hardware inside customers' servers for the first time and forms the nucleus around which a future high-performance caching appliance line, code-named "Project Thunder," will be built, said Barry Ader, senior director of product management and product marketing for EMC.

"This is about leveraging new PCIe Flash technology to enable mission-critical applications to get the highest performance while at the same time protecting data," Ader said.

VFCache is high-speed Flash memory-based storage device which plugs into a standard PCIe slot inside a customer's server to provide a high-speed cache where data can be accessed at low-latency speeds.

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Other vendors have also introduced PCIe Flash-based cache devices, including Fusion-io, one of the leading vendors in this part of the market.

However, Ader said competitors' products typically act as direct-attach storage devices with no tiering to other storage devices on the back end. VFCache connects to other storage arrays to provide immediate access to hot data while protecting that data by maintaining copies on the storage arrays.

"We improve performance while protecting data in front of a VMAX or VNX array," he said. "For the channel, this is a great solution for channel partners who sell servers and storage. They now have the ability to put Flash in servers in concert with EMC storage."

VFCache is a part of EMC's FAST (Fully Automated Storage Tiering), which automatically moves data from higher-speed to slower storage devices, and back again, depending on how often it is accessed. With VFCache, EMC now extends storage tiering from inside the server for highest-performance through the cloud for lowest-cost storage.

EMC is touting a performance improvement of 300-percent throughput boost and a 60-percent latency decrease in Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle environments when using the VFCache with its VMAX, VMAXe, VNX, and VNXe arrays.

However, Ader admitted that VFCache will also work when used in front of non-EMC storage. "If it's not EMC storage behind the VFCache, customers won't lose too much functionality for now," he said. "But we will be adding new features in the future that only work for EMC storage."

Next: EMC's Plans For 'Project Thunder'

Over this year, EMC plans to add deduplication to the VFCache. Other planned enhancements include deeper intelligent features including enhanced array integration capabilities, distributed cache coherency for active-active clustered environments, and management integration with VMAX and VNX.

The VFCache is currently available. Ader declined to discuss pricing for the new solution.

The VFCache will be available direct from EMC and through specialty EMC solution providers with server and storage expertise.

EMC's next step in the Flash storage business is "Project Thunder," which is envisioned as a server network appliance, Ader said.

"Think of it as many PCIe cards put inside an appliance which is then connected to the server through a high-speed connection to deliver millions of IOs per seconds with microsecond performance," he said. "It could be InfiniBand, or PCIe, or high-speed Ethernet. That decision, we will make through our early adopter program."

"Project Thunder" is initially slated to be available to customers in the second quarter of this year through an early adopter program, Ader said.

EMC is no stranger to using Flash-based technology to improve storage performance. The company in early 2008 was the first major storage vendor to incorporate SSDs into its storage arrays.

David Flynn, CEO and chairman of Fusion-io, e-mailed a statement to CRN saying that EMC's new VFCache is a limited approach to solving data center data growth problems because is leverages Flash only as a cache for expensive backend EMC storage systems.

"In contrast, Fusion-io achieves application performance through the use of flash as a memory platform in the server. We believe ours is the optimal approach to maximizing data center efficiency and performance needs that increase in importance with the continued adoption of cloud computing. Customers don’t want to pay twice for reliable performance, and they don’t have to with Fusion-io," Flynn wrote.