Flash-talking with Fusion-io

by Robin Harris on Friday, 7 November, 2008

Fusion-io commissioned me to create a video with David Flynn, Fusion-io co-founder and CTO, talking about their architecture and the benefits of high bandwidth NAND flash. Even though I’ve been researching flash for a couple of years, some of David’s comments surprised me.

Flash doesn’t make a good disk
Anyone who cares to can track how my view of flash has evolved. From early enthusiasm, based on my happy experience with a flash-based HP Omnibook 300 – the original netbook – in the ’90s, to increasing skepticism.

The “aha” moment came at the Flash Memory Summit in August, when an industry panel agreed that

. . . NAND flash is best seen as an extension to DRAM and a layer between DRAM and disk – not as the guts of a disk drive replacement.

BTW, I started skeptical on Fusion-io and have become a convert. Go figure.

The learning continues
Fusion-io isn’t the only company offering flash storage in a non-disk format, but they do seem to be furthest along. I think their perspective is way more important than, say, Seagate’s. Here’s the video.

The StorageMojo take
Every time a new technology appears, our first impulse is to recreate the products of the old technology with it. Such is the case with flash.

We’ve run into the limits of the old disk/RAID/array/SAN paradigm. With storage clusters, flash and changing workloads we now face the exhilarating – and sometimes frightening – prospect of re-architecting our storage infrastructures.

Fusion-io won’t be the final word on flash, but they’ve made a great start. Not to mention a real head start.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Nathan November 7, 2008 at 6:23 pm


What I don’t see in that white “paper” is their HA play. Close to the CPU is great until you need to start clustering. What are the failure modes and can they be duplicated? If it appears as a RAID controller to the OS, can they be RAIDed themselves? How about an interconnect for mirroring?

Some sort of high-speed interconnect coming out of the back of this card that plugs into another Fusion.io card in another chassis on the rack would make this a pretty interesting product indeed.

I wonder if we’ll start to see server boards with five or ten PCI-e slots and the ability to chain them all together?

Exciting times.

MS November 8, 2008 at 12:25 am

Hello all,

[directly responding to Nathan’s comment:]
working on software which is taking the road Robin mentions (SSD extending the whole buffering chain), I can tell you: it all depends on the algorithms you use. You can get HA while still having a fusion IO card, SSD, etc. accelerate your computing tasks.

Simon November 8, 2008 at 8:27 am

I think one reason we recreate old technology with new products can be summed up by asking a question.

Does fusion-io have a Solaris driver? a Freebsd driver? HP-UX?

I agree it is the correct direction, but lots of great technologies die and lots of bad technologies get adopted all based on how fast and easy they are picked up by vendors / operating systems. In my opinion Fusion-io should pioneer a new interface standard (and or protocol) to fit in between the disk and DRAM.

Robert Pearson November 8, 2008 at 10:33 pm

Finally, some light to guide us to the end of the tunnel…
I never thought flash was a “disk” replacement.
Only the Storage vendors hoping for incremental change and continued market control thought that.

We are at the crossroads again. We have been at this particular crossroad many times.
This crossroad is “Do the smarts go in the box (Unit of Technology) or outside?”

In the article “Five Reasons IBM Is Scared Of Losing Exec To Apple”:

3. Apple Gets Cloud Computing Intellectual Capital That Could Come Back To Bite IBM In The Backside

the statement is made that, “To do cloud computing right you need hardware smarts”.

The first step is to define the feature/function set of the new Information stack (IS). Flash is the first big Unit of Technology for implementing the new IS.
What would you like to see in that feature/function set?
There are many rivers to cross…

Brainy November 9, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Interesting times ahead. Tomorrow will be the launch of Sun’s Open Storage Portfolio with SSD/ZFS etc.

And Fusion I/O should work soon with ZFS too http://www.opensolaris.org/jive/thread.jspa?messageID=285158&#285158

The downside of Fusion I/O is, PCI Adapters are only hot-swappable on high-end systems, compared to disks…

Another interesting point is, how applications behave with SSD DIsks… Do Oracle installations suddenly need less CPU power/licenses? Tough times ahead for Oracle if so….

Wes Felter November 10, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Robin, are you aware that StorageMojo is infested with an ad that covers the page until the poor user clicks “close”? That’s bad mojo.

Dave Vellante December 3, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Hey Robin…nice video– congratulations on putting this together. It’s a welcome balance to digesting text all day. The graphics were helpful too. My vote…do more!

Interesting perspective. It’s all about balance in the system isn’t it and I suspect that’s part of the integration problems the early drive replacement guys are seeing.

Good to see the storage pyramid back in full swing. Fred Moore’s good work lives on…

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