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Startup Formulus Black Intros Memory-Based Storage

Formulus Black's ForsaOS software, running on industry-standard server hardware, allows applications and their data to reside entirely in server-based DRAM to potentially boost performance well beyond that of traditional servers.

Formulus Black, a storage startup built upon what used to be known as Symbolic IO, this week re-entered the storage stage to introduce new technology to enable any application with large amounts of data to run 100 percent in server memory.

Formulus Black wants to help businesses run their most performance-hungry and capacity-hungry applications in the server without the need for external storage, said Wayne Rickard, chief marketing officer for the Jersey City, N.J.-based vendor.

This, Rickard told CRN, requires moving beyond the traditional server model with fast and expensive internal DRAM connected to high-capacity, inexpensive, but slow external storage media.

[Related: The 10 Biggest Enterprise Data Storage News Stories Of 2018]

Formulus Black is doing this with its new ForsaOS, a new operating system that lets any workload work in memory without modification. ForsaOS runs on any commodity server hardware configured with either Intel Skylake or Intel Broadwell processors, Rickard said.

Formulus Black was formed last year from another storage vendor, Symbolic IO, which developed high-performance storage hardware. Rickard said Formulus Black was formed with the help of external investors who acquired the Symbolic IO intellectual property and kept nearly all of its personnel, except for its management team.

Unlike Symbolic IO, Formulus Black is now a 100-percent software-focused vendor, he said.

ForsaOS brings what Formulus Black calls memory amplification to servers. Memory amplification translates the memory into Formulus Black bit markers, which are managed in place of the memory itself, Rickard said.

"We dedicate cores to managing the bit marker space," he said. "We can get 4X amplification, and so 3 TBs of memory actually looks like 12 TBs."

ForsaOS currently requires a minimum of 365 GBs of DRAM, and works with up to 3 TBs of DRAM, in a 2-socket server, Rickard said. The next release will allow the use of 1-socket and 4-socket servers, he said.

The memory used with ForsaOS is standard DRAM, which offers the fastest performance for running applications, Rickard said. "In a perfect world, you would run everything in memory all the time," he said. "We enable that."

While the DRAM is non-persistent memory, meaning that it loses its contents if power is cut off, the memory is protected when the server is connected to a UPS, Rickard said. In the event of power loss, the memory is immediately backed up to external SSD-based storage. The maximum memory of 12 TBs with memory amplification can be backed up to SSDs in about 7 minutes, he said.

Because of its use of DRAM, ForsaOS has a couple of unique characteristics, Rickard said.

No peripherals are needed, except for external SSD-based storage to back up the server memory, he said. Also, the ForsaOS bit markers take the place of traditional deduplication, compression, and encryption, eliminating the latency such features usually add, he said.

"There is a 2- to 3-percent overhead in the cores to manage the bit markets," he said. "But users get that back and more in performance improvement."

Rickard acknowledged that the architecture requires external SSD storage to back up the standard DRAM technology. "But with our 4X memory amplification, one server acts like four servers," he said.

Customers are already getting impressive results even though ForsaOS has been available until now mainly for beta testing, Rickard said.

One regional telco, which Rickard declined to name, had a mission-critical database with hundreds of millions of customer records accumulated over 20 years running on a SAN in a Microsoft SQL Server cluster.  

The query time for that database was about 15 minutes. "That was unacceptable," he said. "No one wants to wait 15 minutes for a response."

When a server running ForsaOS was added to the SQL Server cluster, the query time dropped to 2 seconds, Rickard said. "The customer thought there was a problem," he said. "They ran the test again, and got the same results. The customer was blown away."

That new server also helped cut costs as the customer's 2-TB database was now running with four cores in a VMware environment vs. the original 16 cores, saving the cost of 12 VMware core licenses, he said.

Formulus Black is in the process of recruiting channel partners, and has six in the U.S. so far, Rickard said.

"Our channel program will launch in April," he said. "It will have deal registration, channel incentives, preferred access to tech support, and special pricing."

One channel partner already involved with Formulus Black has seen that kind of performance with its clients.

Rich Baldwin, CIO and chief strategy officer at Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution providers and Formulus Black channel partner, told CRN that Formulus Black's technology is amazing.

Nth got its first Formulus Black system, which was configured on server hardware from Taiwan-based AIC, early this year, and gave it a thorough testing last month. One of Nth's engineers, who has been with the company for 15 years, tested the unit in a virtualized environment, Baldwin said.

"He was getting a number of record-breaking results in nearly every test," he said. "Formulus Black came out on top of every test, or close to it. We told Formulus Black, and they asked us if we were running on bare metal. We said no, we were using it in a KVM virtualized environment. They told us to test it again on bare metal. We did, and the numbers were off the charts."

Baldwin said Nth was seeing 18 million to 19 million IOPs. "We tested and retested using different methods," he said. "We were seeing about 75 Gbytes per second throughput. That's pretty damn high."

While the Formulus Black system currently has a maximum memory capacity of 3 TBs, that is plenty, Baldwin said.

"Typical databases are in the tens or hundreds of Gbytes, not in the terabytes," he said. "So a server with two CPUs and 3 TBs of DRAM can handle 90 percent of workloads out there. And because Formulus Black works with the Linux kernel, most of the software in the market will run without the need to re-architect or re-write them."

Going forward, Formulus Black plans to implement Intel Optane 3D XPoint memory technology, Rickard said.

"That will give us a bigger persistent memory," he said. "It's a little slower than DRAM, but its persistent, so we can eliminate the external UPS."

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