Storage Soup


August 13, 2018  2:11 PM

Kaminario storage goes for a run on Western Digital OpenFlex

Garry Kranz Garry Kranz Profile: Garry Kranz

Kaminario storage continues to push farther and farther away from its reliance on purpose-built hardware.

The all-flash vendor has qualified its consumption-based Cloud Fabric software for Western Digital OpenFlex composable infrastructure, which the two vendors demonstrated last week at Flash Memory Summit.

Cloud Fabric is hyper-scale virtualization software that allows data center operators to separate physical compute and storage on Kaminario storage arrays, and now also on Western Digital OpenFlex F3000 NVMe all-flash systems. The partnership with Western Digital underscores Kaminario’s effort to generate revenue from sales of software licenses, after outsourcing inventory of its branded K2 arrays earlier this year.

Cloud Fabric deploys the Kaminario VisionOS operating system and Clarity analytics in a pay-as-you-use license.

“With this Western Digital partnership, we are broadening the (types of) certified hardware for our K2.N software stack. It’s not just a selling partnership with Western Digital, but a technology partnership to deliver a software-defined composable infrastructure,” Kaminario CTO Eyal David said.

Composable infrastructure converts physical IT into modular pools of virtual resources. Hewlett Packard Enterprise popularized the composable concept with its Synergy product, and Dell EMC this year launched its Kinetic platform. Startups Attala Systems and Liqid also are trying to make inroads by selling software that allows large enterprises to buy hardware components by the rack as an application requires it.

Kaminario launched in 2010 amid a roaring white-hot market for all-flash arrays. And while demand for flash storage continues to grow, a corresponding trend line is the delivery  of storage services in software packaged on commodity servers. That market shift has forced Kaminario and other all-flash array startups to change course, be acquired or go bankrupt.

Although Gartner lists Kaminario as a leader in the solid-state array market, the vendor scrapped the hardware model this year to focus on selling VisionOS as a software-defined storage license. Customers are still able to buy Kaminario storage arrays as a reference design from resellers.

One thing missing so far from the Kaminario storage software stack is cloud tiering for file and object storage. David said Kaminario has it on the roadmap and expects to add the feature within the next calendar year.

August 13, 2018  11:46 AM

Violin Systems prepares NVMe launch, but not for drives

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo
Violin Systems

Violin Systems will make its first platform launch since its resurrection when it brings out a flash array with NVMe support on the front end for host connectivity in September.

Violin CEO Mark Lewis said the vendor doesn’t need end-to-end NVMe yet because its custom built flash modules are faster than NVMe drives now.

The vendor’s flagship array is the Flash Storage Platform 7650, launched three months before Violin went into bankruptcy in December 2018. Private equity firm Quantum Partners acquired Violin’s assets in April 2017 and brought it back to life as Violin Systems. There were tweaks to the platform since then, but no new products.

Lewis said another platform is about to drop. NVMe may not be the main focus, but it will be included.

“NVMe doesn’t help us,” Lewis said during an interview last week at the Flash Memory Summit. “We’re faster than NVMe now, we don’t have a problem. The vendors using SAS and SATA drives, they have a problem that NVMe helps.”

Lewis expects to add NVMe to Violin’s custom chips in early 2019 and switch to off-the-shelf NVMe SSDs when the speed improves in late 2019. But for now, the new Violin platform will keep its custom flash modules.

“We will support NVMe on the front end in the platform we launch next month,” Lewis said. “On the back end, we already have our own storage. ATA and SATA were way too slow, so we built our own controller, FGPA, all of that. So right now, we are quite a bit faster than NVMe on the back end because we soldered the NAND into the board. We’re working with NVMe SSD suppliers to speed them up.”

Lewis said his plan is to sell Violin’s pure performance to customers who need it most, and leave the general flash storage market to the Dell EMCs, Pure Storages, IBMs, NetApps and Hitachi Vantaras of the world. He said the desire to compete across the board doomed Violin the first time around.

“Violin lost that focus,” he said of the flash array pioneer’s previous struggles. “We’re just going to focus on the Tier 0 performance low-latency space. That’s what we do really well, that’s what we do better than everybody else by a long shot, and there’s a market for that.”

Lewis said many Violin’s customers stuck with its storage during the bankruptcy period because they couldn’t find an alternative that gave them enough latency for use cases such as transaction processing. He said Violin has about 100 customers, including five new customers last quarter.

“We were very happy with that,” he said. “We’re like an A Round startup now, with a great customer base. The hardest thing for a startup is getting that early customer adoption, and we already have a lot of Fortune 500 accounts. And we’re back up to about 100 employees, counting contractors.”

Violin Systems didn’t make Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for all-flash arrays released last month. The latest Magic Quadrant included 12 vendors, with seven among the leaders. Lewis said he was happy to be excluded.

“Product sales went to zero last year, so you can argue we were too small [for the Magic Quadrant],” he said. “But I also told Gartner I do not have a strong desire to be on that quadrant. We’d become a niche player. The Gartner Magic Quadrant goes to execution about this massive all-flash array market, and it becomes a scale game.”

Lewis pointed to Tintri, which appeared in the Magic Quadrant as a visionary despite following Violin into bankruptcy, as proof that the Magic Quadrant inclusion does not guarantee success.

“Tintri’s core issue was similar to Violin’s,” he said. “They jumped in the deep end. Every one of their deals had Pure and Dell and HPE, and everybody else in it.”


August 10, 2018  3:05 AM

Dell EMC Isilon, ECS gain ClarityNow for unstructured data

Garry Kranz Garry Kranz Profile: Garry Kranz

Dell EMC on Thursday picked up file software to help project teams access, control and manage unstructured data on heterogeneous storage.

The deal for Agoura Hills, Calif.-based DataFrameworks is Dell EMC’s first storage-related acquisition since Dell Technologies merged with EMC in 2015. Terms were not disclosed. Dell EMC said the transaction would not be material to earnings.

The DataFrameworks flagship, ClarityNow, allows data sets to grouped together and related to business projects or use cases. The tool will complement Dell EMC Isilon scale-out NAS and object-based Elastic Cloud storage, said Varun Chhabra, a senior director of product marketing for Dell EMC storage and analytics.

“ClarityNow gives users the power to manage where their data lives, so they can have a consistent experience. It allows you to cluster your usage by project so you get a better level of insight,” Chhabra said.

DataFrameworks has gained traction in electronic design automation, health care and media and entertainment. ClarityNow does not replace Dell EMC Isilon CloudPools, which migrates inactive data to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Dell EMC Virtustream object storage.

“The ClarityNow piece is suited for very specific business workflows,  where the end user requires higher degree of control over where the data actually sits,” Chhabra said.

DataFrameworks patented a way to organize file-based workflows according to its business logic. ClarityNow agents scan multiple file directories and object buckets to present unified search results. A metadata server indexes tagged data and the software allows users to move active data between archive and production storage.

Data sets can be grouped or related to specific projects or business uses for access and retrieval. Data protection can be applied at the asset level, keeping certain files on disk for hierarchical storage management and parsing other files to low-cost tiers. ClarityNow will tag one attribute in an application and use it for metadata queries to other applications.

Customers use Dell EMC Isilon to consolidate multiple file data on a massively scalable NAS cluster. ClarityNow fills a void created by the end of life of Isilon Search, a Linux-based virtual appliance that provided file searching across multiple Isilon clusters. Chhabra said it was “too early” to discuss the ClarityNow roadmap, but he hinted future engineering could expand its use cases.

“We have ClarityNow to fill the gap, but it’s turbocharged, because you can search across Dell EMC Isilon, ECS and any other platform that DataFrameworks supports,” Chhabra said.


August 7, 2018  5:00 PM

CEO: Actifio funding round to help focus on customer growth

Paul Crocetti Paul Crocetti Profile: Paul Crocetti

Actifio today completed its second $100 million funding round in four years, as it moves closer to a possible IPO and seeks profitability and growth.

The Actifio funding round increases the company’s valuation to $1.3 billion, up from $1 billion in 2014, when it last raised $100 million. Total Actifio funding is $307 million.

Actifio, based in Waltham, Mass., was a pioneer of copy data management. The vendor now calls its technology “data as a service,” aiming to provide quick access to customer data wherever it lives. Its Virtual Data Pipeline features data management and data protection capabilities, including analytics, business continuity, governance and security. It covers the cloud, virtual machines and physical platforms.

While Actifio has been eyed as a main contender for an IPO, CEO Ash Ashutosh said last year that his company had to choose an area of focus: being profitable or going public. The company chose the profitability route.

Headshot of Ash Ashutosh

Ash Ashutosh

In the last two years, Actifio has had quarters where it was profitable, but not consistently enough, Ashutosh said today. So Actifio is keying in on what it does best and has identified a model for profit and growth. That will require more focus and organization, and the ability to say no, for example to smaller customers.

Ashutosh said Actifio would recommend a channel partner or service provider to interested SMBs. The company is aligned with about 200 channel partners and 110 service providers.

Actifio is focusing on enterprises, typically companies with $1 billion in revenue.

“That’s a massive enough market for us,” Ashutosh said.

While Ashutosh said an IPO is a goal, a bigger objective following the Actifio funding round is in acquiring new customers and further helping existing ones. Between 50 and 70% of sales each quarter are from the existing customer base, which is close to 3,500 enterprises, he said.

Product-wise, Ashutosh said he’s hoping to double down on significant investments Actifio has made in the last couple of years in the cloud and business-critical applications. He said he wants Actifio to be the go-to platform for customers who want to access data anywhere, from databases to complex SAP applications to the cloud.

Actifio is planning a product update launch soon. It will feature concentrations on cloud, security and analytics, Ashutosh said.

After staff reductions dropped the employee count from 360 to 346 last year, Actifio is up to about 400 employees. Ashutosh said he does not expect to add many employees with the funding.

Crestline Investors led the Actifio funding round, joined by North Bridge Venture Partners, 83North, Advanced Technology Ventures, Heritage Group, Andreessen Horowitz and other existing investors. Crestline is a new investor in Actifio.


July 27, 2018  10:51 AM

Gartner: all-flash array market ‘visionaries’ include Tintri

Garry Kranz Garry Kranz Profile: Garry Kranz

Several vendors with spotty fiscal histories made Gartner’s list of competitors angling for all-flash array market share.

Gartner listed Tintri as a “visionary” in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Solid-State Arrays research report, which was made available this week. Gartner  identified X-IO Technologies as a niche player following a management reorganization forced upon it by dwindling capital.

Tintri launched a lackluster initial public offering in June 2017. Poor sales and financial woes forced Tintri into bankruptcy last month. The vendor has agreed to sell its assets to DataDirect Networks under a court-administered transaction. Garntner noted that in the Magic Quadrant report, but those problems did not disqualify Tintri from inclusion. Gartner defines a vendor in the visionaries quadrant as one with innovative products but no demonstrated ability to capture market share or sustain profitability. “Visionary vendors are frequently privately held companies and acquisition targets for larger, established companies,” the report stated.

Gartner said a “reinvigorated” X-IO has regained momentum with customers and increased investment on innovation. Gartner considers the niche category for vendors focusing on specific markets or verticals, those ramping flash array products, or larger vendors having problems “developing and executing” their vision.

Violin Systems, formerly known as Violin Memory, did not make the Magic Quadrant. Violin is a pioneer in the all-flash array market that was rescued from  bankruptcy in 2016 by a private hedge fund.

The Gartner report mostly analyzes all-flash arrays that take SAS, SATA and nonvolatile memory express (NVMe)  SSDs, although storage systems are included that can use emerging storage class memory and other flash types.  Gartner excludes hybrid arrays that mix electromechanical spinning disk and SSDs.

Overall, Gartner included 12 solid-state storage array vendors, including seven identified as market leaders: Pure Storage, NetApp, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell EMC, IBM, Hitachi Vantara and Kaminario. Pure Storage has remained atop the Gartner rankings for several years.

Pure solid-state arrays include the block-protocol-based FlashArray family,  including FlashArray//M and NVMe-based FlashArray//X, and FlashBlade arrays for file and object storage. Among Gartner’s cautions on Pure is the he inability to disable inline data reduction on FlashArray and lack of data deduplication and replication on FlashBlade.  Pure also needs to expand its presence in government and other industry verticals, Gartner said.

NetApp’s incremental improvements in flash mark a departure from several years ago, when it lagged competitors in the all-flash market. Gartner said NetApp’s Data Fabric technology “resonates well” with enterprises that want a single platform to manage data across cloud, data center and edge infrastructures. NetApp in May added an NVMe-based version of its All Flash FAS arrays.

Also aiding NetApp’s rise are the emergence of the first all-flash arrays based on its 2015 acquisition of SolidFire, including the SF38410 and FlexPod SF converged infrastructure.  Gartner noted that NetApp has engineering work to do to extend the SolidFire Active IQ predictive analytics beyond storage and across the stack, and to enable inline deduplication on SolidFire hardware to be disabled on a per-volume basis.

Rounding out Gartner’s leaders are Hewlett Packard Enterprises, IBM, Dell EMC and Hitachi Vantara, which was formed in September 2017 from the amalgamation of Hitachi Data Systems, Hitachi Insight Group and Pentaho.

Kaminario’s financial situation is also unclear, as a private company that  last received venture funding in January 2017. Garntner highlights Kaminario’s partnership with Tech Data, which packages Kaminario software on hardware appliances, but also noted the deal signed six months ago is unproven. However, Gartner noted that Kaminaro grew its revenue and was able to outperform the aggregate all-flash array market in 2017. The vendor in January announced it would no longer directly carry hardware inventory,  but offer its K2 arrays as consumable reference architecture with its Kaminario Cloud Fabric software-defined storage utility

Gartner said the all-flash array market experienced 27% year-over-year growth in 2017, with vendors combining to generate $6.3 billion in sales. Arrays that use NVMe flash internally accounted for less than 1% of the revenue, although Gartner estimates NVMe storage will represent about 30% of the market by 2021.

Like Tintri, Gartner characterizes Western Digital’s Tegile IntelliFlash as a market visionary. Western Digital (WD) acquired Tegile in September 2017. The IntelliFlash all-flash system originally was developed by SanDisk, which Western Digital also owns.

All-flash challengers include Fujitsu, with recent product upgrades to its Eternus arrays, and newcomer Huawai Technologies,  a Chinese vendor that added the OceanStor Dorado V3 and OceanStor F V5 arrays to its all-flash portfolio. According to Gartner, challengers are vendors that “execute well enough to be a serious threat” to market leaders, but don’t possess the same “size and influence.”


July 26, 2018  8:39 AM

Commvault Advance still in neutral

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo
Storage

Commvault’s retiring CEO Bob Hammer said the data protection vendor’s ongoing transition will produce long-term gains, although they will likely follow short-term pains.

Commvault unveiled a series of product and management changes in recent months, following a letter from unhappy investor Elliott Management last April highly critical of Commvault management. The changes, under the banner of Commvault Advance, included Hammer’s announced retirement pending hiring of a replacement, two new board members and a simplifying of its product line from 20 products to four.

The early results have had no positive impact on Commvault’s financials. Its product revenue of $75.1 million last quarter was flat from a year ago. Services revenue increased 11% and its overall revenue of $176.2 million ticked up six percent but came in $1.74 million lower than Wall Street consensus. Commvault also lowered its forecast for this month and the overall year during its earnings report Tuesday. It now expects revenue of $179 million this quarter and from $745 million to $750 million for the year. Financial analysts expected revenue forecasts of $182.5 million for the quarter and $770 million for the year.

Commvault lost $8.6 million last quarter, although $11.4 million of that came from restructuring and other one-time expenses.

“We still have much work to do to translate what we have done into better, more predictable revenue growth,” Hammer said on Commvault’s earnings call. “This transformation we’re going through is massive. When you’re in the middle and you’re moving hundreds of people around to different functions and different roles within the company, and you’re expanding your partnership engagement, you go through a period of disruption. But fundamentally, we feel we put a plan together and we’re executing that plan, and we feel really good about it.”

Hammer said Commvault Advance had three objectives: to simplify the business, drive improved and consistent revenue growth, and improve profitability. He said the product changes were Phase One of Commvault Advance, with cost reductions planned for Phase 2. Commvault reduced its workforce by six percent last quarter, finishing with 2,679 employees. That was a greater cut than its four percent reduction goal.

Commvault hired a search firm in May to find and interview CEO candidates to replace Hammer, who is stepping down after leading the company for 20 years. Hammer said he is personally involved with the search, but added there is no timetable for hiring a replacement.

Elliott called for a complete review of Commvault’s management in its April letter. Elliott, which owns more than 10% of Commvault stock, outlined plans for changes including four new board members. Last week Commvault added Martha Bejar and Chuck Moran to the board, replacing long-time directors Robert Kurimsky and Armando Geday.

Hammer said Commvault’s HyperScale scale-out storage appliance is a key to its revenue growth but HyperScale has not had significant revenue since its late 2017 launch. He admitted competitors such as Veeam – which said its bookings grew 20% year-over-year last quarter – and relative newcomers Rubrik and Cohesity have put pressure on Commvault. But Hammer added he expects HyperScale and new partnerships with Cisco, IBM, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Microsoft and AWS to help Commvault’s competitive position.

“All the chips are on the table now,” Hammer said. “Now, it’s just [a matter of] pure execution. We’re going to start taking the pole position relative to these new upstarts, technologically. This is all opportunity now, it’s just how high up that is, because the elements are in place now.”


July 26, 2018  6:17 AM

Veeam adds Nutanix AHV support, expands Office 365 backup

Paul Crocetti Paul Crocetti Profile: Paul Crocetti
Storage

Veeam Software has launched updates to its product line to increase platform support in recent weeks while continuing on a trajectory to becoming a $1 billion company by the end of the year.

Veeam said the second quarter of 2018 was its 40th in a row of double-digit bookings growth. Bookings grew 20% year-over-year and Veeam now claims 307,000 customers. Veeam executives point to alliance partners as a key to that growth.

Veeam product updates include support for the Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV) and a new version of Backup for Microsoft Office 365.

New for Nutanix

Veeam Availability for Nutanix AHV provides the same backup and recovery capabilities that the vendor offers for users of the VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors. Those features include multiple restore options, ranging from recovery of an entire VM to individual files and application items. Backups are taken from Nutanix VM-level snapshots.

In addition, Veeam designed the web-based user interface to look and feel like the management UI for the Nutanix infrastructure stack.

Edwin Yuen, senior analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group, said he’s impressed with the “breadth and depth of Veeam’s capabilities.” If it has all the capabilities of the Hyper-V and vSphere backup, it will be comprehensive, he said, and valuable to have for protection.

“It was important for Veeam to have an AHV solution,” Yuen said. “It rounds it out for them.”

Veeam first announced its intention to support AHV in July 2017 at Nutanix’s .NEXT conference. The backup and recovery vendor originally said the support would be available by the end of last year.

The Availability for Nutanix AHV has been in beta throughout 2018, said Rick Vanover, director of product strategy at Veeam. While there wasn’t a problem, he said, the release a few weeks ago of the most recent Veeam updates to its Backup and Replication product “unlocked” the capability for the Nutanix support.

“We don’t want anyone to have a false sense of security with this product,” Vanover said.

Yuen said he doesn’t think there are concerns with the support coming out later than anticipated.

“It’s about getting it right,” Yuen said.

Several other data protection vendors have recently launched support for AHV, including Veritas, Commvault, Cohesity, Rubrik, Arcserve and Unitrends. HYCU sells software built specifically for Nutanix AHV backup.

General availability for Veeam’s Nutanix AHV product launched July 26.

Veeam updates Office 365 backup

The Veeam updates to its Backup for Microsoft Office 365 include data protection for OneDrive for Business and SharePoint.

That support was “a really important piece of the puzzle,” Vanover said.

The data protection for SharePoint includes backup for SharePoint Online and on-premises.

Version 2 of Backup for Microsoft Office 365 is available in one- to five-year annual subscriptions. Veeam recommends a three-year subscription, billed annually at $1.28 per user, per month.

More than 35,000 organizations have downloaded the Backup for Microsoft Office 365, representing 4.1 million mailboxes, according to Veeam.

Closing in on $1 billion

Veeam did not give a revenue figure for last quarter, but said the 20% year-over-year growth keeps it on track to hit $1 billion in annual bookings by the end of 2018. The vendor pointed to the cloud as its fastest growing segment with 64% year-over-year growth.

Vanover said product expansion and partnerships will help Veeam reach its bookings goal.

“The whole company is aware of this goal of reaching $1 billion,” Vanover said. “We’re definitely not going to do it with one product. And we’re definitely not going to do it alone.”

Veeam also revealed plans to add 300 positions in a new research and development office in Prague.


July 25, 2018  10:25 AM

Rubrik targets ransomware attacks with Polaris Radar

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo
Storage

Rubrik today added an application to its Polaris SaaS platform, with the goal of automating protection against ransomware attacks.

Polaris Radar is the second Polaris application from the converged secondary storage vendor, following Polaris GPS that launched in April. Polaris is a SaaS framework for managing secondary data. Polaris GPS provides policy management for data in multiple clouds and on-premises. Radar analyzes that data to detect threat behavior.

Chris Wahl Rubrik’s Chief Technologist said the vendor will continue to rollout new apps for Polaris roughly every few months. “We will continue at an energetic pace,” he said.

Polaris Radar monitors all data on-premises and in the cloud under management by the Rubrik Cloud Data Management platform, and generates alerts for suspicious behavior. It uses machine learning algorithms to analyze all metadata from backups and snapshots, checking for anomalies such as massive encryption or deletion of files. It then helps users identify and find impacted applications and files. After users find and select impacted data, Radar automates recovery by restoring to the most recent clean state.

Wahl said Rubrik already helped customers restore to a clean state after ransomware attacks but its Cloud Data Management platform did not find threats retroactively before Radar.

“The onus was on the customer to identify and put their arms around the scope of it,” he said. “Radar will do all that for them. We then give them a push-button approach to recovering. You can wipe all this out, and then select these apps or the files or folders you want to restore. Pick the clean state you want to go to. Radar will then contact all data centers and handle all the orchestration of replacing encrypted files. We can restore to the most recent state with a few clicks.”

Third-party developers can use Polaris APIs to integrate Radar into monitoring dashboards and other data protection and security products.

Ransomware was the top variety of malware found in 2017, according to the 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report. High-profile ransomware attacks such as the 2017 WannaCry virus and the 2018 Atlanta attack have raised awareness, leading to data protection vendors adding ransomware protection to their products.


July 25, 2018  7:18 AM

Toshiba, Western Digital start shift to 96-layer BiCS flash

Carol Sliwa Carol Sliwa Profile: Carol Sliwa
Storage

New 96-layer 3D NAND flash memory is starting to roll out that can store more data per chip and potentially lower per-bit storage costs over  64- and 32-layer technologies.

Toshiba Memory America and Western Digital are sampling their 96-layer 3D NAND bit column stacked (BiCS) flash – formerly known as bit cost scalable – that can store four bits per cell. The capacity of a single quad-level cell (QLC) flash chip is 1.33 terabits (Tb), and a stacked 16-die package can store 2.66 terabytes (TB) of data.

Western Digital and Toshiba developed their proprietary 96-layer BiCS flash at their joint manufacturing facility in Yokkaichi, Japan. They expect to ramp up volume shipments of the 96-layer QLC 3D NAND chips later this year and eventually ship products designed for enterprise and consumer use cases requiring high-density data storage.

This week, Toshiba unveiled its first solid-state drive (SSD) based on the 96-layer, fourth-generation BiCS flash that can store three bits per cell, known as triple-level cell (TLC) flash. Toshiba’s new NVMe-based PCIe XG6 SSD primarily targets PCs, mobile computing, gaming applications and embedded systems but could also see limited use in data-center servers for boot, log and cache purposes.

Toshiba XG6 SSD

Toshiba XG5 M.2 SSD with triple-level cell (TLC) 96-layer BiCS flash

The XG6 is a single-sided 22mm-by-80 mm M.2 SSD that offers capacity options up to 1 TB and is not hot swappable. Toshiba manufactures other SSDs designed to address a broad range of enterprise and data center use cases.

The XG6 has roughly 40% higher capacity per chip unit than its predecessor XG5 model, which uses 64-layer TLC 3D NAND BiCS flash. The XG6 also improves power efficiency, at 1.2 volt I/O; offers higher interface speeds, at 667 to 800 megatransfers per second; and slightly faster read and write speeds, according to Doug Wong, a senior member of the technical staff for Toshiba Memory America.

“As die density increases over time, that will improve the likelihood that pricing will improve as well,” said Grant Van Patten, product line manager for client, OEM and data center SSDs at Toshiba. “But I think the biggest impact the 96 layer really has long term is the density. In a data center, you can have fewer racks that do just as much work. So you start to get into some of those TCO arguments.”

Toshiba is shipping initial samples of its XG6 SSD to select OEM customers and plans to showcase the new drive at next month’s Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California. Toshiba also plans to show off a packaged prototype that uses the 96-layer QLC 3D NAND BiCS flash technology.

Alternative to HDDs for cold storage
Scott Nelson, senior vice president of Toshiba’s memory business unit, predicted the 96-layer QLC 3D NAND technology will have an especially significant impact in the area of cold storage, where its higher density and lower cost per GB could be a “game changer in the industry.” He said certain types of data do not require the higher performance that TLC flash can provide.

Data reads are about two to three times slower, and data writes, or programs, are about five times slower with QLC 3D NAND in comparison to TLC 3D NAND, according to Nelson.

“We’re going to see a migration from TLC to QLC. Now that’s not to say that QLC is going to replace TLC, because it will not. But there is a niche that QLC can fill,” Nelson said.

Nelson said 96-layer QLC 3D NAND could become a high-density alternative to cheaper hard disk drives (HDDs), providing faster access to cold storage.

The 96-layer QLC BiCS flash technology could account for 10% to 15% of Toshiba’s NAND chip shipments by 2019 or 2020, but 64-layer TLC 3D NAND will continue to dominate the market at that point, according to Nelson. He added that “long-tail demand” would also remain for lower density planar, or two-dimensional (2D), NAND flash. Nelson expects shipments of planar NAND based on floating gate technology to continue for the next three to five years, representing perhaps 10% of the market. Toshiba’s BiCS flash uses a charge trap memory cell.

NAND manufacturers moved from planar NAND to 3D NAND technology when they faced challenges scaling the technology. The cost of planar technology drops as the die size shrinks, and the price of 3D NAND technology falls with the addition of layers that increase the density of the chip.

Wong said the performance of TLC 3D NAND BiCS flash has been similar or better than 15-nanometer devices using planar multi-level cell (MLC), or two bits per cell, technology. He noted that Toshiba did research years ago on planar QLC NAND flash, but it didn’t make sense from a timing standpoint. He said it made more economical sense to do QLC with the BiCS flash technology because the cell size isn’t shrinking as fast and the inter-cell interference effect is lower. The 96-layer TLC and QLC 3D NAND use a similar architecture, but QLC requires stronger error correction code (ECC), Wong said.

Toshiba plans to begin shipping samples of its 96-layer QLC 3D NAND flash chips to SSD and SSD controller vendors in September. Nelson said he also expects demand from hyperscalers and tier 1 data centers that build their own SSDs.

Western Digital was unavailable for comment. The company said it is sampling the 96-layer QLC BiCS flash and expects volume shipments to start later this year, beginning with consumer products under the SanDisk brand. Western Digital eventually plans to use the QLC BiCS technology in a wide range of applications from retail to enterprise SSDs.


July 20, 2018  9:28 AM

Lenovo picks Cloudistics as ThinkAgile CP partner

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo
lenovo, Private Cloud

Like the other major server vendors, Lenovo proclaims it is “all in” on hyper-convergence and software-defined storage. It just goes about it in a different way.

Unlike the Dell EMC VxRail, Cisco HyperFlex and Hewlett Packard SimpliVity and Synergy platforms, Lenovo does not develop its own hyper-converged or composable infrastructure software. It relies on partners to provide that on top of Lenovo ThinkAgile servers. In the hyper-converged space, Lenovo partners with VMware (ThinkAgile VX Series), Nutanix (ThinkAgile HX Series) and  Microsoft (ThinkAgile SX for Microsoft Azure Stack).

This week Lenovo added a newer, smaller partner to the mix when it launched ThinkAgile CP Series powered by software from startup Cloudistics. Lenovo bills the ThinkAgile CP as a composable private cloud platform, although the underlying architecture is similar to that of hyper-converged. The difference, according to Lenovo and Cloudistics, is Cloudistics software was designed from the start for private clouds.

“We call it ‘cloud in a box,” said Shekar Mishra, Lenovo’s director of product marketing for software defined datacenter. “We have a robust hyper-converged portfolio through partnerships with Nutanix and VMware. Now we’re looking more towards cloud models. We have a hybrid cloud platform with Microsoft. Now this (CP) brings the cloud model within the customer’s firewall. It’s everything they love about the Amazon public cloud model, but bring it within their data center and within their control.”

Does Lenovo need another platform for that? VMware and Nutanix will happily tell you they bring the public cloud model inside an organization’s data center, too.

“We are all in,” Mishra said when asked about any overlap.

So what does Cloudistics bring? The Lenovo ThinkAgile CP is managed by Cloudistic Cloud Controller (Cloudistics brands it as the Ignite Cloud Controller). Cloud Controller is a SaaS application that orchestrates storage, compute (Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system) and networking resources. Cloud controller also includes the Cloudistics Application Marketplace with templates for quick deployments of applications and operating systems.

Cloudistics software also includes backup and replication, and microsegmentation.

“We modeled this after the cloud from day one,” said Todd Frederick, a Cloudistics founder and its COO. “It’s like Amazon, when you log into VPC (virtual private cloud), you have your own virtual private network. We’ve done the same thing. You log in as a tenant, and you get your own virtual network. That’s how we carve up this infrastructure and deliver services.”

Lenovo is launching the ThinkAgile CP Series with two hardware models. The ThinkAgile CP4000 includes two to four 2U compute nodes and a storage block. The compute nodes use Intel Xeon processors and each node has either 128 GB or 256 GB DDR4 memory. The storage blocks include 4.8 TB to 28.8 TB of usable capacity.

The larger ThinkAgile CP6000 consists of one to 10 compute node enclosures with up to four nodes per enclosure, and from one to five storage blocks. Each storage block has 9.6 TB to 115.2 TB of usable capacity. The architecture lets customers scale compute and storage blocks independently in an enclosure.

List price starts at $180,000 for an entry level enclosure. Lenovo, which handles all support, has begun customer trials in North America. Mishra said he expects to CP platform to be general available by late August.


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