NAND Flash, the same technology that has replaced floppy drives in laptops with thumb drives and that provides the memory/storage in smartphones and numerous other solid-state portable devices, is going to revolutionize servers, provide an advanced, high-speed platform for big data capture and analysis, and solve the I/O problems slowing the adoption of virtual desktops, David Flynn, CEO of Fusion-io said in an interview with Wikibon CEO David Vellante and SiliconAngle CEO John Furrier on SiliconAngle.tv and transcribed on the Wikibon site.
And he is walking the walk. His company is already powering this latest IT revolution by providing a new class of server memory that fits between RAM and disk storage in the server architecture. NAND Flash, he said, provides unique advantages that will make whole families of new applications practical while accelerating the server consolidation in the data center that has been driven by virtualization. These advantages include:
- High-speed, solid-state storage of large amounts of active data with the random-access advantages of a RAM disk at a lower price.
- Very low power consumption or heat generation because unlike RAM or disk, it does not require constant power.
- An effective 100X the density of RAM as packaged in a device, in part because of the very low heat.
- Persistent memory, providing storage permanence that is equivalent or better than that of disk.
- Near instant recovery from a power outage, allowing servers to come online much faster without the long periods often required to reload and “warm up” traditional RAM cache.
- Very high I/O rates that are ideal for applications such as virtual desktop support for large user populations in offices, which are today often highly I/O restrained.
Although NAND Flash works fast enough to replace both RAM and disk in portable edge devices, Mr. Flynn says that in the server architecture it fits in the middle between RAM and disk storage and will not replace either:
- It does not have the processing speed to completely replace RAM, which will still be used to run applications. However, it will replace RAM cache, decreasing the amount of RAM and, because NAND Flash is less expensive, helping to control costs in the processor architecture.
- It is, however, more expensive that disk storage. Therefore, disks will still be used to store background and historic data that has low access rates. Flash, however, will be used to hold highly active data, taking much of the seek load off the disk systems and moving the most important data as close to the processing as possible.
“This is a new class of server-based memory,” he says. “The fact that it happens to be non-volatile and happens to be accessed through the storage interface is really a convenience. Just as a RAM disk sets aside part of your memory to pretend to be a disk drive, our software stack, called the Virtual Storage Layer, takes I/O memory and expresses it as if it were a storage device. But the way it's physically connected and the way you communicate with it is much more akin to physical memory.”
So is this vision real? The industry thinks so. Fusion-io has OEM agreements with IBM, HP, and Dell, three of the largest server providers in the industry. IBM and HP OEM its product under their own brands while Dell, which is also an investor in Fusion-io, uses the Fusion-io brand. And Fusion-io has found a market, that is driving the company's high growth rate, in the big Web-based companies including Facebook And Twitter that are using its NAND Flash memory to power their big data capture and analysis server systems.
Action Item: Every business has big data, including huge volumes of unstructured data – e-mails exchanges, chat sessions, recordings of telephone conversations. In some industries companies are required to maintain these and need the ability to search them when they become involved in a compliance audit or legal action. And they are gold mines of valuable information. Archives of exchanges with customers, for instance, contain clues to what those customers want today and trends that show how those desires are changing over time, and where your company can improve its products or services to better serve those customers. Servers that have this new intermediary layer of flash memory provide the ideal base for capturing, storing, and analyzing this data. This is an important issue when upgrading your present hardware or buying new.