Violin to bring deduplication, replication, other tools to all-flash storage arrays

The software update later this year should help bring the products up to feature par with disk arrays

Violin Memory plans to add deduplication, thin provisioning, snapshots and other features in a software update for its all-flash storage arrays, in a bid to match some key features that enterprises are used to getting in disk-based platforms.

The company sells its 3000-series Flash Memory Array and 6000-series Flash Memory Array as faster and more compact alternatives to traditional data-center disk arrays, primarily for databases and other core business applications. When all costs are considered, the flash-based systems cost about the same as disk arrays and offer three or four times the performance, according to Narayan Venkat, Violin's vice president of products.

The software upgrade for the 3000 and 6000, scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter, will include some capabilities that are already available on many disk-based platforms. In Violin's products these capabilities have been optimized for flash storage, Venkat said. To meet enterprises' requirements, the software includes deduplication for efficient use of capacity, virtual-machine snapshots and cloning for data protection, thin provisioning for efficient deployment, and data replication for disaster recovery.

"They've come to rely on storage systems to facilitate the process of backup, disaster prevention, disaster recovery [and] rapid provisioning for these applications," Venkat said. Having these features helps to make Violin's systems an easy "drop-in" alternative to disk storage, he said.

Violin developed the software in collaboration with Symantec, using a software stack from that company in a custom implementation for Violin's platforms, Venkat said. The partnership is not exclusive. Most of the new features will be free to existing customers, with the exception of replication and some other capabilities, he said.

A Violin solid-state platform that takes up 3U (5.25 vertical inches) of rack space can do the same job as four full racks of spinning disks, according to Venkat. Hard disks can pack more data in a given space, but critical "tier 1" applications such as databases need speed more than density. To deliver high speed, multiple hard disks are often configured in ways that aren't efficient for space or cost, so flash can serve those applications more effectively, he said.

All-flash arrays such as Violin's, like other flash storage, are helping to bring storage up to speed with ever-advancing servers, IDC analyst Jeff Janukowicz said.

"The amount of information that can be dealt with by a processor has grown exponentially over the last decade or so," Janukowicz said. "However, the storage performance really hasn't kept up with the demands on the compute side."

With a significant price premium over disk-based systems, all-flash arrays started out as tools for speed-intensive niche applications such as financial trading, he said. However, partly driven by higher-volume flash manufacturing for consumer devices, the price of solid-state storage is declining.

"As some of the costs have come down, it's finding more broad use cases," Janukowicz said.

IT departments that are looking at flash arrays as an alternative to disk-based systems will tend to demand the kinds of data management features and high availability they are used to, he said. The features Violin is adding should help it meet that bar.

Privately held Violin, based in Mountain View, California, was founded in 2005 and shipped its first product in 2009. Its 6000 array is sold by Hewlett-Packard under the name VMA (Violin Memory Array). Violin claims just over 300 customers, focused on large enterprises.

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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