I was listening to SiliconANGLE Founder John Furrier on a call last Friday. He had a first-hand glimpse of the new superstars of the tech world last week at the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara. These are the people whose startups are bringing much-needed speed and performance to customers in the Web and enterprise markets.
Why are these startups getting such attention? Furrier is right on. It’s all about the data.
There’s a race going on. The storage market is transforming. Overall, the storage market is growing at around 13% a year, according to IDC. What’s changing it is a new generation of startups that are tipping the balance. For example, IDC also reports that solid state disk (SSD) revenue increase 103.4 percent in 2010, due to strong growth in the enterprise segment. As startups get more traction, the market will solidify and winners will emerge.
Why Speed Matters
Increasingly, people are manipulating data with smartphones and tablets. Next it’s going to go a step further. Discover Magazine has a story about temporary tattoos that have embedded sensors. Police at the World Cup in Brazil will wear special “Robocop style” glasses to get immediate facial recognition of individuals in large crowds. Speed is in demand as devices increasingly become part of the human body and serve as the place where most transactions occur.
Through all of this – the smart, savvy companies are realizing that all this data is stupid, cumbersome and expensive if it can’t move fast.
Take the smart phone I just scrapped. I would not use services I depend on because the smartphone was as slow as a 486 PC trying to chunk through 3D computer graphics. I am exaggerating but I tell you this new HTC Sensation? Love it. I am using mobile services again. I am again a conduit for social transactions.
The problem with that old phone came down to data choke points. It could not process the operations required to pass all that data.
Now think about the modern enterprise. It’s full of choke points. People just can’t get the performance they demand on a virtualized platform.
Virtualization requires lots of storage. The traditional solution is to keep adding servers, more machines. It’s also a problem for any large services provider. Ebay rebuilt its systems based on SSDs. And Amazon is holding back on offering primary storage because they need to buy too many hard disks to make it financially feasible. They know if they skimp there will be a correlating drop in performance.
So, what are the startups jumping into this race? Let’s take a look:
SolidFire: The company calls itself a truly higher performance storage option for cloud service providers. Its founder, Dave Wright, is one of these people whose pedigree reminds us of past titans. He dropped out of Stanford in 1998 to help start GameSpy Industries. He and his team built a back-end architecture that powered thousands of games and millions of users. After selling the company to News Corp., he started Jungle Disk, one of the earliest leaders in the cloud-based storage world. He sold Jungle Disk to Rackspace in 2008. In December 2009 Wright left Rackspace to start SolidFire.
Here’s a slide deck about SolidFire, narrated by Wright:
FlashSoft: At the Flash Memory Summit, Furrier sat down with FlashSoft founders Ted Sanford and Serge Shats to talk about their business and traction. Again, the story is about speed. Moving data is the challenge.
Software is clearly becoming the disruptive force across all tech sectors. In the storage business cache is king. SSD is the hottest area of disruption. As the megatrend of high density comes to flash especially in speed and robustness, cache and high volume of transaction data or “hot data” is changing the game for the big server vendors like HP, Dell, and IBM not to mention their customers in the enterprise. The market is demanding that CPU, memory, and storage all be solid state and in the server.
As the applications push into the cloud, FlashSoft is providing 3-10x in speed performance with their flash software. As a startup the best thing you want is your first product that solves a problems that no one else can and one that also saves their customers money.
Fusion-io: The company went public this spring and so far is considered an IPO with a degree of promise. What’s impressive? Fusion-io provides a new type of server class of memory that has helped it win customers such as Apple and Facebook. That smartphone? Its speed is because of the memory on the device. In the cloud, servers with a dense memory capability can provide ten times the performance. That’s a big deal for developers. It means new possibilities for how what applications can do. The speed is of a new dimension.
This interview is worth watching all the way through. Very insightful.
Tintri: Thee company manages data as it travels between virtual machines. The company bills itself as providing “VM-aware” storage appliances. The company was founded by Dr. Kieran Harty, former head of R&D at VMware.
Violin Memory: The company uses memory arrays to accelerate business critical applications. The company claims its memory arrays are designed to scale to hundreds of terabytes and millions of IOPS with low, spike-free latency.Violin recently hired a new CTO for its software group. Jonathan Goldick has a long history in the tech world. Interestingly, from what we can tell, his focus will be on data management.
From All Things D:
“The early adopters, they care about speed because they’re in application hell. But once you get past that, the problem becomes one of data management,” Goldick told me. “Once you make anything 100 times faster or cheaper, you have to revisit how you manage data.”
Nimbus Data: The maker of intelligent solid-state storage announced in early August that eBay deployed more than 100 terabytes of its S-Class flash memory to power its VMware virtual server infrastructure. Nimbus provides an all-flash solution.
Nimble Storage: Nimble Storage provides converged storage, backup, and disaster recovery. It replaces an enterprise’s expensive high-RPM drives with a hybrid architecture that combines high-performance flash memory with low-cost, high-density SATA drives.
Dave Vellente of Wikibon interviewed Varun Mehta
founder and vice president of engineering at Nimble Storage.
Kaminario: The I/O bottleneck is where applications get stuck. Kaminario takes a different approach to solve this problm, citing itself as an alternative to flash. It uses DRAM to provide better performance. Gareth Taube is the vice president of marketing at Kaminario. He keeps the company’s blog updated pretty well. DRAM reliability is a theme he drills on:
The advantages of DRAM can be summed in one word: Speed. DRAM performance is not only much faster than that of disk, it’s much faster than flash as well, with up to 1.5 million IOPS and latency under 120 microseconds. Even read performance is greater than that of flash, but write performance is way faster and much more consistent since no garbage collection is necessary. DRAM has no built in life limitations like flash and performance does not usually deteriorate over time. The one reliability disadvantage of DRAM is volatility, but enterprise DRAM solution vendors such as Kaminario address that with UPS’s and back-up disk storage to ensure that no data is lost in the event of a power interruption.
Anobit: The Israeli company makes a Flash controller that boosts performance. The company announced last week that it had doubled the capacity of its MSP controller.
MSP stands for memory signal processing and Anobit uses its own signal processing algorithms to extract usable data from flash cells that ordinary cell-reading technologies cannot handle, getting noise from them rather than usable signals; that’s Anobit’s pitch at any rate.
Anobit is a secretive company out of Israel. Its controllers are manufactured by Hynix, the semiconductor company that supplies Apple. There’s a connection there to the speed and capabilities that have made the iPad such a runaway hit.
Velobit: The company came out of stealth in June. It claims its technology improves storage price-performance with an approach that can be used with any SSD disc. They maintain that its storage performance solution can work with any SSD without any change to primary data and primary storage.
Have you ever had the joy of using a super slow app that is processing on a virtual machine? Performance can be hell. Fusion-io technology is a hardware and software combination that speeds up the data delivery to the end-user.
Furrier says cache is king. I have to agree. Service providers need to look to these new innovators. We talk all day about data but if it’s clogged up then it is meaningless. Innovators like Apple, Ebay and Facebook all get this. Their architectures are built for speed and fast delivery.
The question I have: Do the giant enterprise technology companies and customers have the smarts to be more like the Web companies of the world? Cheap hardware with SSDs seems to be the combination of choice for the fastest providers. The secret sauce is in the solutions provided by next generation of companies that are providing SSD and flash memory solutions.
Finally, there is a lot more to this story. The big players are not ignoring this juggernaut trend. We’ll look more closely at what companies like IBM, EMC and dell are doing in future posts.