EMC to sell PCIe SSD cards for server acceleration

Intel a likely technology partner for the PCIe cards

LAS VEGAS -- As part of its strategy to touch just about every part of the private and public cloud infrastructure, EMC said today it will begin selling PCIe flash cards for servers to accelerate I/O to backend storage systems.

Pat Gelsinger, chief operating officer of EMC's Information Infrastructure Products, said the server flash card would be similar to what Fusion-io sells, but that its product is specifically addressing acceleration of I/O between servers and backend storage.

EMC CEO Joe Tucci referred to the products as "Project Lightening" earlier in the day during his morning keynote speech at the company's annual user conference here. But Tucci refrained from giving any specific details.

Gelsinger said the cards were aimed specifically at high-availability environments, as they relate to backend networked storage.

"There are a niche of applications that don't require [a] relationship with shared storage," he said, pointing to trading applications and high-performance analytics as an example. "But, most of enterprise applications have some relationship with a shared storage environment."

Gelsinger alluded that the cards would possibly be coming from Intel, which is an EMC partner.

Intel and Micron told Computerworld earlier this year that their joint manufacturing venture, IM Flash Technologies (IMFT), would be producing a PCIe flash card later this year, to be called the P320h.

The P320h will be a follow-on product to Micron's first enterprise-class SSD, the P300, which is based on the serial ATA (SATA) interface and single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash memory.

The P320h will also use SLC NAND flash along with a technology based on a familiar acronym with a different twist: RAIN, or redundant array of independent NAND. RAIN is more commonly defined as "redundant array of independent (or inexpensive) nodes," which refers to the building blocks of a grid storage architecture that incorporates both processors and disk storage in one unit.

In Micron's instance, RAIN will refer to utilizing additional NAND as a cache or buffer to increase resilience.

Asked whether EMC would be reselling Intel's product, Gelsinger said, "Obviously, Intel is one of our core technology partners. While Intel has talked generally about products in this area, I don't think they've talked specifically about it. So I think it would be premature for me to talk about anything further about ... their specific plans with regard to server-side flash."

Gelsinger said EMC plans to begin supplying the cards to beta customers in the second half of this year. As for when the product will be generally available to customers, Gelsinger said, "that depends on how well it does."

In an earlier demonstration on the larger conference stage, Gelsinger had an EMC administrator migrate virtual servers running Hadoop instances to an EMC storage array.

Speaking to a crowd of press and analysts, Gelsinger was asked whether or not EMC was entering the "general" server market, but expanded on that answer to say EMC's arrays are "servers" in that they serve up data.

"No. We're not competing with HP or IBM. I'm not trying to compete with HP's blade servers," he said. "But, as you could see in my previous demo, I'm migrating VMs onto my storage arrays. That's pretty interesting."

Gelsinger said EMC plans to integrate its FAST (fully automated storage tiering) software with the SSD technology to speed data placement from the storage array to servers for better performance.

The company also plans to make its array-based SSDs more affordable by using enterprise-class multi-level cell (eMLC) NAND flash, which offers greater capacity at a lower price point than its current single-level cell (SLC) SSDs.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Read more about storage hardware in Computerworld's Storage Hardware Topic Center.

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