XtremIO: Not All Flash Arrays Are Created Equal

Miroslav Klivansky, chief technologist at XtremIO, talks about the many flavours of flash storage products

Two weeks ago, EMC subsidiary XtremIO launched a plethora of updates for its all-flash array family. These included a new version of the software code, support for in-memory snapshots, new in-line compression methods and an entry-level Starter X-Brick with ‘just’ 5TB of capacity.

TechWeekEurope tracked down Miroslav Klivansky, chief technologist at XtremIO, and asked him to explain who’s the target audience for the new X-Brick, how the new arrays are different from those offered by various divisions of EMC, and whether the acquisition of Fusion-io by SanDisk bodes well for the PCI-E flash accelerator market.

Silicon bricks

EMC XtremIO bezelAsked whether the smaller array is aimed at small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) and start-ups, Klivansky told us that XtremIO doesn’t make a distinction between bigger and smaller customers in terms of flash adoption.

“Whether it’s a start-up or large enterprise, a lot of it is really driven by applications and needs. If a start-up really needs the kind of consistent low-latency performance that flash brings, then flash is the right media to store it. We think we have a very compelling offering that brings a lot of good stuff to the table, but there are plenty of different ways to make flash accessible and useful at different price points.”

Instead, the smaller flash array was designed for organisations taking their first steps with feature-rich solid state memory, as a sort of ‘trial’ model. It would also appeal to businesses who know the exact spot where they need flash, but don’t require (or can’t afford) more than 5TB of capacity.

“To some degree, this is a response to what we see some of our competitors are doing,” said Klivansky.

However, unlike some of those competitors, XtremIO offers the budget-friendly option with two controllers and all of the features of its more expensive siblings, both software and hardware. It’s worth noting that ‘budget-friendly’ for EMC is a flexible concept – the company negotiates the price with individual clients, and that’s why you won’t see any of the ‘price per GB’ claims that are favoured by vendors like Pure Storage and Dell.

Spot the difference

But what about EMC’s VNX and VMAX product families, which also offer all-flash arrays? Klivansky explains that while different divisions of the company often have overlapping portfolios, they are actually suitable for very different use cases.

The recently launched VNX-F array is EMC’s lowest price all-flash storage system, created to deliver raw performance and capacity. However, it completely lacks the advanced data services like thin provisioning, snapshots, deduplication and replication, all present in XtremIO arrays.

So while VNX-F would be perfect for High Performance Computing (HPC) projects, XtremIO is more suitable for highly virtualised, blended workloads – for example, web apps and analytics.

“The features are the differentiator. If you don’t need thin provisioning, if you know you are going to effectively hard provision all of the flash, if you have a workload that doesn’t compress and doesn’t dedup, if you need a ‘drag racer’, then the VNX-F can do a very good job at a very competitive price point,” Klivansky told us.

Consolidation versus growthmhss_emc_card

EMC also offers a class of devices known as ‘flash accelerators’ under the XtremSF brand. These add-in cards improve application and server performance by designating a big chunk of NAND connected via PCIe as cache. However, Klivansky doesn’t believe that this market holds as many opportunities as the one for all-flash arrays, despite the recently announced $1.1 billion acquisition of Fusion-io by SanDisk.

“SanDisk is a strong company and with their resources, the Fusion-io flash cards will be in a stronger position on the market,” admitted EMC’s technologist.

“I see a lot of growth and development in all-flash arrays. When I look at server-side flash, Fusion-io is very innovative, a clear leader, and they have cornered a lot of the market, but at the same time there seems to be a limit at how big this market is.

“Consolidation is the opposite of growth. You see SanDisk buying Fusion-io because Fusion-io stopped growing. Western Digital bought Virident. This market seems to be consolidating, being picked up by component suppliers.

“To me, that says there’s a strong, growing market for all-flash arrays, but the demand for PCIe-based flash cards has flattened.”

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