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Category: Fishworks

We’re announcing a couple of new things in the flash SSD space. First, support the Intel X25-E SSD in a bunch of our servers. This can be used to create a Hybrid Storage Pool like in the Sun Storage 7000 series, or as just a little flash for high performance / low power / tough environmentals.

Second, we’re introducing a new open standard with the Open Flash Module. This creates a new form factor for SSDs bringing flash even closer to the CPU for higher performance and tighter system integration. SSDs in HDD form factors were a reasonable idea to gain market acceptance in much the same way as you first listened to your iPod over your car stereo with that weird tape adapter. Now the iPod is a first class citizen in many cars and, with the Open Flash Module, flash has found a native interface and form factor. This is a building block that we’re very excited about, and it was designed specifically for use with ZFS and the Hybrid Storage Pool. Stay tuned: these flash miniDIMMs as they’re called will be showing up in some interesting places soon enough. Speaking personally, this represents an exciting collaboration of hardware and software, and it’s gratifying to see Sun showing real leadership around flash through innovation.

Today at The First Workshop on Integrating Solid-state Memory into the Storage Hierarchy (WISH 2009) I gave a short talk about our experience integrating flash into the storage hierarchy and the interaction with SSDs. In the talk I discussed the recent history of flash SSDs as well as some key areas for future improvements. You can download it here. The workshop was terrific with some great conversations about the state of solid state storage and its future directions; thank you to the organizers and participants.

In May of 2007 I was lined up to give my first customer presentation of what would become the Sun Storage 7000 series. I inherited a well-worn slide deck describing the product, but we had seen the reactions of prospective customers who saw the software live and had a chance to interact with features such as Analytics; no slides would elicit that kind of response. So with some tinkering, I hacked up our installer and shoe-horned the prototype software into a virtual machine. The live demonstration was a hit despite some rocky software interactions.

As the months passed, our software became increasingly aware of our hardware platforms; the patches I had used for the virtual machine version fell into disrepair. Racing toward the product launch, neither I nor anyone else in the Fishworks group had the time to nurse it back to health. I found myself using months old software for a customer demo — a useful tool, but embarrassing given the advances we had made. We knew that the VM was going to be great for presentations, and we had talked about releasing a version to the general public, but that, we thought, was something that we could sort out after the product launch.

In the brief calm after the frenetic months finishing the product and just a few days before the launch in Las Vegas, our EVP of storage, John Fowler, paid a visit to the Fishworks office. When we mentioned the VM version, his eyes lit up at the thought of how it would help storage professionals. Great news, but we realized that the next few days had just become much busier.

Creating the VM version was a total barn-raising. Rather than a one-off with sharp edges, adequate for a canned demo, we wanted to hand a product to users that would simulate exactly a Sun Storage 7000 series box. In about three days, everyone in the group pitched in to build what was essentially a brand new product and platform complete with a hardware view conjured from bits of our actual appliances.

After a frenetic weekend in November, the Sun Unified Storage Simulator was ready in time for the launch. You can download it here for VMware. We had prepared versions for VirtualBox as well as VMware, preferring VirtualBox since it’s a Sun product; along the way we found some usability issues with the VirtualBox version — we were pushing both products beyond their design center and VMware handled it better. Rest assured that we’re working to resolve those issues and we’ll release the simulator for VirtualBox just as soon as it’s ready. Note that we didn’t limit the functionality at all; what you see is exactly what you’ll get with an actual 7000 series box (though the 7000 series will deliver much better performance than a laptop). Analytics, replication, compression, CIFS, iSCSI are all there; give it a try and see what you think.

In my last blog post I responded to Barry Burke author of the Storage Anarchist blog. I was under the perhaps naive impression that Barry was an independent voice in the blogosphere. In fact, he’s merely Storage Anarchist by night; by day he’s the mild-mannered chief strategy officer for EMC’s Symmetrix Products Group — a fact notable for its absence from Barry’s blog. In my post, I observed that Barry had apparently picked his horse in the flash race and Chris Caldwell commented that “it would appear that not only has he chosen his horse, but that he’s planted squarely on its back wearing an EMC jersey.” Indeed.

While looking for some mention of his employment with EMC, I found this petard from Barry Burke chief strategy officer for EMC’s Symmetrix Products Group:

And [the “enterprise” differentiation] does matter – recall this video of a Fishworks JBOD suffering a 100x impact on response times just because the guy yells at a drive. You wouldn’t expect that to happen with an enterprise class disk drive, and with enterprise-class drives in an enterprise-class array, it won’t.

Barry, we wondered the same thing so we got some time on what you’d consider an enterprise-class disk drive in an enterprise-class array from an enterprise-class vendor. The results were nearly identical (of course, measuring latency on other enterprise-class solutions isn’t nearly as easy). It turns out drives don’t like being shouted at (it’s shock, not the traditional RV drives compensate for). That enterprise-class rig was not an EMC Symmetrix though I’d salivate over the opportunity to shout at one.

Barry Burke, the Storage Anarchist, has written an interesting roundup (“don’t miss the amazing vendor flash dance”) covering the flash strategies of some players in the server and storage spaces. Sun’s position on flash comes out a bit mangled, but Barry can certainly be forgiven for missing the mark since Sun hasn’t always communicated its position well. Allow me to clarify our version of the flash dance.

Barry’s conclusion that Sun sees flash as well-suited for the server isn’t wrong — of course it’s harder to drive high IOPS and low latency outside a single box. However we’ve also proven not only that we see a big role for flash in storage, but that we’re innovating in that realm with the Hybrid Storage Pool (HSP) an architecture that seamlessly integrates flash into the storage hierarchy. Rather than a Ron Popeil-esque sales pitch, let me take you through the genesis of the HSP.

The HSP is something we started to develop a bit over two years ago. By January of 2007, we had identified that a ZFS intent-log device using flash would greatly improve the performance of the nascent Sun Storage 7000 series in a way that was simpler and more efficient that some other options. We started getting our first flash SSD samples in February of that year. With SSDs on the brain, we started contemplating other uses and soon came up with the idea of using flash as a secondary caching tier between the DRAM cache (the ZFS ARC) and disk. We dubbed this the L2ARC.

At that time we knew that we’d be using mostly 7200 RPM disks in the 7000 series. Our primary goal with flash was to greatly improve the performance of synchronous writes and we addressed this with the flash log device that we call Logzilla. With the L2ARC we solved the other side of the performance equation by improving read IOPS by leaps and bounds over what hard drives of any rotational speed could provide. By August of 2007, Brendan had put together the initial implementation of the L2ARC, and, combined with some early SSD samples — Readzillas — our initial enthusiasm was borne out. Yes, it’s a caching tier so some workloads will do better than others, but customers have been very pleased with their results.

These two distinct uses of flash comprise the Hybrid Storage Pool. In April 2008 we gave our first public talk about the HSP at the IDF in Shanghai, and a year and a bit after Brendan’s proof of concept we shipped the 7410 with Logzilla and Readzilla. It’s important to note that this system achieves remarkable price/performance through its marriage of commodity disks with flash. Brendan has done a terrific job of demonstrating the performance enabled by the HSP on that system.

While we were finishing the product, the WSJ reported that EMC was starting to use flash drives into their products. I was somewhat deflated initially until it became clear that EMC’s solution didn’t integrate flash into the storage hierarchy nearly as seamlessly or elegantly as we had with the HSP; instead they had merely replaced their fastest, most expensive drives with faster and even more expensive SSDs. I’ll disagree with the Storage Anarchist’s conclusion: EMC did not start the flash revolution nor are they leading the way (though I don’t doubt they are, as Barry writes, “Taking Our Passion, And Making It Happen”). EMC though has done a great service to the industry by extolling the virtues of SSDs and, presumably, to EMC customers by providing a faster tier for HSM.

In the same article, Barry alludes to some of the problems with EMC’s approach using SSDs from STEC:

STEC rates their ZeusIOPS drives at something north of 50,000 read IOPS each, but as I have explained before, this is a misleading number because it’s for 512-byte blocks, read-only, without the overhead of RAID protection. A more realistic expectation is that the drives will deliver somewhere around 5-6000 4K IOPS (4K is a more typical I/O block size).

The Hybrid Storage Pool avoids the bottlenecks associated with a tier 0 approach, drives much higher IOPS, scales, and makes highly efficient economical use of the resources from flash to DRAM and disk. Further, I think we’ll be able to debunk this notion that the enterprise needs its own class of flash devices by architecting commodity flash to build an enterprise solution. There are a lot of horses in this race; Barry has clearly already picked his, but the rest of you may want survey the field.

The organizers of the OpenSolaris Storage Summit asked me to give a presentation about Hybrid Storage Pools and ZFS. You can download the presentation titled ZFS, Cache, and Flash. In it, I talk about flash as a new caching tier in the storage hierarchy, some of the innovations in ZFS to enable the HSP, and an aside into the how we implement an HSP in the Sun Storage 7410.

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