Analysis: NetApp, Fusion-io Collaborate For Better FlexPod Converged Infrastructure

Storage vendor NetApp and PCIe server-based flash memory developer Fusion-io on Monday said they are working together to develop solutions tying server-side flash memory and storage caching software as part of the NetApp Virtual Storage Tier.

NetApp and Fusion-io said they hope to develop solutions ensuring compatibility between Fusion's ioMemory PCIe flash storage platform and NetApp's Data Ontap operating system, as well as between caching software solutions from the two vendors.

The collaboration between Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp and Salt Lake City-based Fusion-io will likely see its first fruits in an expansion of the joint NetApp-Cisco-developed FlexPod converged infrastructure platform.

[Related: Cisco, EMC Competing PCIe Flash Storage Strategies Raise Concerns ]

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FlexPod is a series of pre-validated configurations based on various NetApp storage appliances and Cisco's UCS server and networking technology, and it can be modified by solution providers to meet customer requirements.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco in June signed an OEM agreement with Fusion-io to use the latter's technology to provide a PCIe-based flash storage layer inside Cisco's UCS servers.

By ensuring the compatibility between Fusion-io's server-based storage tier and NetApp's storage caching software, NetApp is opening the way to bringing server-based PCIe flash storage into its auto-tiering plans.

Automated tiered storage, or dynamic tiering, is the ability of a storage device to automatically migrate data from one type of media to another based on how "hot," or frequently accessed, the data is and the cost of the different types of media.

That is an important technology direction for NetApp, which does not offer its own server platforms and which depends on relationships with server vendors. The agreement with Fusion-io will help extend its reach into server-based storage on any servers that have the Fusion-io technology installed.

NetApp's primary server relationship is with Cisco thanks to their FlexPod collaboration. Cisco expects to have Fusion-io technology available for its UCS platform in the second half of 2012.

For Cisco, the NetApp-Fusion-io relationship helps balance its NetApp partnership with that of Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC, the industry's top storage vendor. Cisco and EMC cooperate through VCE, a joint-venture company that combines their server, networking and storage technologies into a converged infrastructure. Cisco and EMC are also collaborating on EMC's new VSPEX reference architecture for building converged infrastructures using the vendors' suggested configurations.

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EMC developed VFCache, a PCIe flash memory solution based on the company's own software and the Nytro WarpDrive PCIe flash adapter from Milpitas, Calif.-based LSI.

With EMC's VFCache, EMC can leverage PCIe flash storage in the server as a high-speed cache layer for its storage. Fusion-io, on the other hand, leverages the PCIe flash storage as a memory platform within the server to increase the performance of applications running in the server.

NetApp declined to provide additional information about its agreement with Fusion-io, other than an emailed statement: "We don’t have a product announcement at this time, but wanted to let the industry know about the collaboration between our two companies. Fusion-io is working with NetApp to provide solutions using server-side flash and caching software products used in conjunction with the NetApp Virtual Storage Tier. Rest assured that we will be in touch when a product announcement can be made."

Fusion-io was unable to respond before press time.