PernixData virtualizes server-side flash caching

PernixData launches its Flash Virtualization Platform, which clusters server-side flash storage for high performance and fault tolerance.

PernixData Inc. this week launched its server-side Flash Virtualization Platform, which allows organizations to share flash caching across clustered servers running VMware.

The Flash Virtualization Platform (FVP) lets any server running the software access flash resources installed on another host in the cluster. FVP installs into the VMware vSphere kernel, uses the same resources as the vSphere hypervisor, and can piggyback on the vMotion virtual network. The software is managed as a tab in vCenter.

PernixData CEO Poojan Kumar calls FVP the industry's first non-disruptive server-side flash platform, and a flash hypervisor.

"It's a 100% software platform that aggregates all flash across your cluster of servers and creates a transparent tier to [put] performance where it rightfully belongs," he said.

FVP’s clustering allows administrators to allocate flash resources on a per-virtual machine (VM) basis for fault tolerance, performance tiers, and to support vSphere operations such as vMotion, Site Recovery Manager, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and snapshots. All VMs connected to the cluster can access the flash resources, even if their physical hosts don't have flash installed.

FVP performs write-through and write-back caching, and replicates writes across clustered hosts for fault tolerance.

"It's very similar to the concept of what VMware initially did on the server side with CPU and memory, decoupling the performance from capacity," said Jeff Aaron, PernixData's vice president of marketing. "So we're really just extending that now to the flash environment."

Aaron and Kumar said one FVP use case is to level out performance spikes brought about by virtual desktop infrastructure boot storms or antivirus updates. Pooling flash resources can alleviate the need for administrators to plan their storage infrastructure around those events.

PernixData's roadmap items include expanding support for additional hypervisors, such as Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer.

George Crump, lead analyst at Storage Switzerland, believes PernixData's approach is the most mature he's seen for sharing server-side flash resources.

"They seem to have hit all the checkmarks," Crump said. "When I get one of these calls [from vendors], I'm always trying to find the things they messed up. But they covered all of the bases well."

His checklist includes the ability to aggregate flash resources, handle node failures with no data loss or performance drop, VM migration capabilities, basic block protocol coverage, support for multiple flash types -- such as solid-state drives and PCI Express cards -- and support for write caching as well as read caching.

"The key is to make server-side flash a fundamental component of the infrastructure," Crump said. "Make it easy to use without breaking anything that you are used to in your virtualized infrastructure."

Crump included Infinio Systems Inc.'s Accelerator and QLogic's Mt. Rainier FabricCache products as direct competitors, although they tackle performance issues in different ways.

"The whole cache market is getting insane," Crump said. "You've got caching happening basically everywhere, and this type of solution to me seems like a very good balance because it gives you a lot of the performance of server-side flash solutions without some of the challenges, specifically VM mobility."

Crump said he would like to see PernixData support DRAM in future releases. He likes the idea of having a mixed cache that allows writes to DRAM and reads from flash. However, PernixData's Kumar said there are no plans to support DRAM or SAN-based flash on the firm's roadmap.

Enterprise pricing for FVP starts at $7,500 per physical host with no limits on the number of supported VMs or flash devices. PernixData's Aaron said the company hopes to announce bundle pricing for small- and medium-sized businesses with a smaller number of hosts, as well as pay-as-you-go pricing for service providers.

PernixData was founded by Kumar and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Satyam Vaghani, who was previously VMware's storage CTO. The company has raised $27 million in venture capital funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Lightspeed Venture Partners, and claims to have more than 100 beta customers for FVP.

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