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Hybrid flash array roundup 2016: The startups

Startups are as active as ever in the hybrid flash market, with new entrants to the fray since last year, but all-flash is making inroads too

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Storage

As most discussions in storage now focus on all-flash, you could be excused for thinking hybrid flash storage is a shrinking part of the market. This doesn’t seem to be the case, however, and this year we add another three hybrid flash startup suppliers since our last roundup. 

Hybrid flash storage uses a combination of flash and spinning-disk hard drives (HDDs) to create a platform that offers better performance than a traditional HDD-based array but is a cheaper option than moving to all-flash.

In hybrid systems, flash is used to target “hot I/O”, or just that data that needs a fast response time at any given time. This design assumes that only a percentage of data is active at any one time, which would make an all-flash system a waste of resources.

Before diving into the product roundup, it’s worth noting that, slowly but surely, hybrid flash suppliers are moving into the all-flash market. Coho Data, Tegile, Tintri and X-IO all have all-flash solutions that sit alongside their hybrid counterparts.

The emergence of high-capacity flash (in the form of 3D, TLC and eventually QLC NAND) means the hybrid market may continue for some time to come with products that combine high endurance and high-capacity flash.

Coho Data

Coho’s storage platform is a scale-out solution based on the MicroArray, a server node that comes in all-flash and hybrid flash versions. Since our last review, Coho has announced the availability of an all-flash node, the 2000f. On the hybrid side, the existing models (1008h, 1000h, 800h) have been enhanced to take advantage of 8TB helium-filled HDDs.

The remaining product enhancements were all software-based through three releases of the DataStream platform operating system (OS). Software updates in May, July and November 2015 introduced data compression (using the LZ4 algorithm), asymmetric configuration support (ie, the ability to mix and match node types in a single cluster), support for vSphere 6 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.

There were also a host of user interface updates and the release of PowerShell tools for hardware management.

Data Gravity

Data Gravity is the first of this year’s new entrants. The startup offers hybrid storage solutions that are “data-aware” and capable of looking into the content of files and virtual machines to expose analytics information for a range of purposes, including identification of sensitive data, understanding data access patterns for better performance, and recovery of data at a more granular level.

The Data Gravity storage platform uses a dual-controller architecture, one of which actively serves data while the other manages the analytics process. Currently, there are four models – from the entry-level DG1100 (18TB HDD storage, 1.2TB flash) all the way up to the DG2400 (96TB HDD, 4.8TB flash). All models support SMB (v1.0, v2.0, v2.1) and NFS (v3, v4) protocols.

Infinidat

Infinidat is another new startup being reviewed this time. The company founders (including Moshe Yanai) have a strong pedigree in the storage industry, having developed the Symmetrix platform for EMC and founding XIV, which was eventually sold to IBM.

More on hybrid flash

Infinidat offers high capacity, high performance (up to 750,000 IOPS, high throughput of 12Gbit/s) and high availability (99.99999% – seven nines), which it calls mainframe levels of performance and availability engineered for enterprise users to handle web-scale operations.

It does this by breaking the mould for enterprise storage in a number of ways. Its Infinibox comes with three controllers in an active-active-active architecture. They contain DRAM and flash, with all active data held in these two layers, while below that are huge amounts – 480 nearline-SAS HDDs – of spinning disk.

The Infinibox platform comes in two models. The F2000 entry-level system provides 250TB (using 3TB drives) or 330TB (4TB drives) of storage in 18U, using up to 38TB of flash and 576GB of system memory. Infinidat claims up to 500,000 IOPS from the F2000 with a throughput of 7Gbit/s. The original F6000 series provides up to 2PB of capacity in a single 42U rack, with 86TB of flash and 2.3TB of system memory. F6000 systems achieve a claimed 900,000 IOPS and throughput of 12.5Gbit/s.

NexGen

NexGen Storage was acquired by Fusion-io in 2013 and subsequently acquired by SanDisk. NexGen was spun out of SanDisk in 2014 and has subsequently been acquired by Pivot3. The company offers all-flash and hybrid flash solutions that focus on delivering application performance through quality-of-service features. The NexGen platform is relatively unusual in that the hybrid models deliver flash using PCIe SSD rather than traditional HDDs (a reflection of the heritage of the company).

There are currently four hybrid flash models available (N5-200, N5-300, N5-500, N5-1000). These scale from 2TB to 7.2TB of flash with 32TB to 128TB of disk (NS-200) delivering a claimed 150,000 IOPS and 2Gbit/s throughput. At the top end the N5-1000 system uses between 10.4TB and 15.6TB of flash combined with 63TB to 256TB of HDD and delivers up to 250,000 IOPS with 3Gbit/s throughput.

Nimble Storage

Nimble continues to offer hybrid solutions based on four product families. The value CS200 systems scale from 8TB to 24TB (raw) or 140TB to 28TB effective capacity after space reduction techniques have been applied, and incorporate up to 1.2TB of flash. The CS300 (base performance family) scales from 12TB to 72TB of disk and up to 3.8TB of flash. The CS500 (high performance) scales from 12TB to 72TB but offers double the maximum flash capacity at 7.7TB. The CS700 (extreme performance) also scales from 12TB to 72TB with 7.7TB of flash and has the option to be configured as a scale-out four-node cluster with a maximum capacity of 3.5PB and 160TB of flash.

During the year Nimble has added the capability to pin workloads permanently to flash, creating what the company terms an “all-flash service level” for applications. There have also been enhancements to the InfoSight management platform to controls at the virtual machine (VM) level and the introduction of REST-based API management.

Reduxio

Reduxio is the third new entrant to the hybrid market and claims to offer all-flash performance in its 2U hybrid dual-controller appliance. The HX550 system scales up to 38.4TB in capacity (120TB-plus effective after space reduction technologies are applied) with 6.4TB of eMLC flash.

A new hybrid appliance won’t survive in today’s market based solely on hardware features, so Reduxio has focused on data services. This includes BackDating, a feature that delivers built-in CDP (continuous data protection) down to one-second granularity.  There is also in-line data deduplication and compression, and thin snapshot/clone technology.

Tintri

Tintri’s technology focuses on the management of data in virtual server environments, with intelligence in the platform OS software that can understand and manage VMs at a very granular level.

New hardware releases in the past 12 months have focused on the all-flash version of the VMstore platform, with no major hardware upgrades being released for the hybrid products. The T800 hybrid series (T820, T850 and T880) scale up to 100TB of effective capacity, with typically around 10% of flash to HDDs and the ability to support up to 3,500 VMs with a single 4U system.

Tintri continues to expand support for multiple hypervisors through the addition of XenServer to complement existing support for VMware vSphere, Hyper-V, RHEV and OpenStack. VVOLs support has also been added, even though VMstore natively supported virtual machines as a core feature.

Tegile

Tegile has refreshed and restructured its product range and now offers four hybrid and three all-flash configurations. The hybrid systems are classified as capacity-optimised (T3100), balanced (T3200), performance-optimised (T3300) and max performance and capacity (T3400). The T3100 starts at 26TB and scales to 170TB (raw) with 750GB of flash. The T3200 offers 36TB to 180TB with 2TB of flash. The T3300 scales from 18TB to 162TB (raw) with 1.5TB of flash. At the high end, the T3400 offers 26TB to 314TB of raw capacity with 28.8TB of flash.

Tegile has moved most hardware models to 2U, except the T3100 and T3200 models, which are presumably due a refresh to bring them in line with the physical characteristics of the rest of the product range.

X-IO

X-IO Technologies announced two new products over the last 12 months: an all-flash version of its existing ISE (Intelligent Storage Element) technology, and Iglu Blaze, a dual-controller SAN solution based on ISE hardware.

Iglu Blaze was added to the X-IO portfolio last summer. The new hardware brought an extra controller layer with advanced storage features including asynchronous replication, disaster recovery and high availability.on top of its existing ISE self-healing HDD, flash or hybrid storage arrays.

Recently, X-IO upgraded the product to Iglu Blaze FX, which can handle up to 366TB of flash capacity, 411TB in hybrid flash configuration and 846TB with X-IO’s self-healing Datapac HDDs. 

I/O performance of Iglu Blaze FX is 600 IOPS per dual-controller stack. The upgrade also saw the addition of stretch clustering with high-availability clusters of up to 100km and latency up to five milliseconds possible.

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