Solidfire: A flash array maker playing a long game in the cloud

Antony Adshead | No Comments
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I caught up with flash array maker Solidfire this week, whose CEO Dave Wright was attending Cloud Expo Europe in London. What struck me was Solidfire's targeting of the cloud provider market and the architecture characteristics and features by which it does that.

Solidfire is a startup, a minnow in a flash array space where big vendors jostle for position and where new entrants hope to get bought by the big boys. But, the firm appears to be playing a long game, and has a number of unique features that make it suited to cloud providers' needs.

Those result from CEO Dave Wright's experience of building service provider Rackspace's Jungledisk cloud storage offering before launching Solidfire in 2010.

What Wright learned from that experience was how to build solid state storage for cloud providers. Where most flash array makers concentrate on the in-house requirements of businesses running virtual machines, Solidfire aims at large cloud environments, and in particular those that want to move away from providing less-performant services such as backup and archiving.

So, how do the workload profiles of such environments differ from, say, an enterprise delivering virtual desktops?

Wright says, "There's no difference between that scenario and the cloud in terms of how you'd see it from the desktop. But the difference from the point of view of providing that storage is in scale, multiple tenancy, providing a consistent service to all customers etc."

So, to meet those needs Solidfire's iSCSI block storage product has been architected to scale out like no other flash array provider's products, from 12TB or 22TB to 2PB. It is built on 1U nodes that scale from four or five up to 100, with 5m IOPS.

As you scale out you can assign performance to storage volumes, for example, providing a volume of 1TB with 1m IOPs and another of 500GB with 250,000 IOPS. This allows service providers to sell to such SLAs.

But while flash array sellers such as Violin Memory, Nimbus and Whiptail aim at providing a relatively small chunk of very high performance solid state storage at specific workloads, Solidfire - which targets cloud providers - attempts to be more than that.

In other words, as well as handling high performance workloads such as virtualisation it must also tackle the less performance-hungry aspects of a cloud provider's services. For this reason, says Wright, it has built in data deduplication, compression and thin provisioning that can help give a decent cost per GB price for operations outside of Tier 1 or Tier 0.

In addition, Solidfire is built for aspects of the cloud such as automation and multi-tenancy capabilities.

Solidfire is playing in what is a hot territory right now - the world of the flash array - that meets the need of highly randomised workloads that can't be matched by existing spinning disk architectures that were built down to the speed of HDDs.

So, it's a space replete with startups and big vendor acquisitions. IBM has bought Texas Memory Systems, EMC bought XtremIO, HDS has added an all-flash module to its VSP arrays. NetApp has indicated it may enter the all-flash fray.

So, is Solidfire looking to get bought? Wright's answer is that he doesn't expect Solidfire to be an acquisition target in the short term. "The big vendors are looking to upgrade their architectures and are in some cases buying startups to provide that. But, IT is moving to large cloud environments slowly and so what we do will only be recognised over time."

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