Fusion-io to cut flash storage latency again

Using Auto Commit Memory, it demonstrated 1 billion IOPS on eight servers

Fusion-io previewed a technology on Thursday that gives server CPUs more direct access to stored data, apparently achieving I/O performance far beyond that found in typical data centers.

Auto Commit Memory, an extension to the company's Fusion ioMemory subsystem, allows data flowing between Fusion-io's flash memory components and the processor to bypass the server's operating system, said CEO David Flynn, who demonstrated the technology at the Demo Enterprise event in San Francisco. That and other innovations reduce the latency of I/O operations enough to make data centers more efficient and consumers' Internet experiences better, according to the company.

Using eight HP ProLiant DL370 servers, each equipped with eight of the company's ioDrive2 Duo memory subsystems, Fusion-io achieved 1 billion IOPS (I/O operations per second) in the demonstration. ACM isn't ready to ship, but the company said it would give more details at the Demo Spring conference in April.

Fusion-io has taken a different approach to flash storage than have traditional storage vendors. Rather than making the solid-state media emulate spinning hard disks and incorporating it into large storage arrays, Fusion-io puts the flash chips on PCIe cards for integration into the server itself, where it behaves like memory that hangs onto the data written to it. This removes several hurdles on the path from storage to processor, including SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) interfaces, host bus adapters and SANs (storage area networks).

Auto Commit Memory is designed to eliminate even more steps to further boost speed.

"What this is demonstrating is the final step of removing the thick layers of software, the potentially hundred thousand instruction cycles worth of software, to get through the operating system to have it shepherd the I/O request to the disk. You have to get rid of all of these things," Flynn said.

In addition to boosting the peak performance of a server, ACM could help organizations use fewer servers and less power, he said. It's especially well suited to cloud computing, where it should improve the Internet experience of consumers.

The new capability looks to be a significant extension of Fusion-io's current technology, said The 451 Group analyst Henry Balthazar. Rivals such as Micron and LSI Logic have moved in on Fusion-io's turf since it pioneered the non-volatile memory space in 2007, and the company is now stepping up with a software-based enhancement to retain its edge, he said.

ACM is likely to help primarily specialized Internet-based businesses like Google and Facebook more than typical enterprises, Balthazar said. Web companies will use Fusion-io's APIs (application programming interfaces) to give their server CPUs direct access to the flash cards.

"We're dealing with a Web 2.0 world where people have zero patience," Balthazar said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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