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The benefits of using NAND flash storage are now very well documented. NAND flash can be introduced into a datacenter environment in a number of different ways:

  • At the server level using a PCIe based SSD;
  • Introducing SSDs into traditional storage systems;
  • Replacing traditional storage systems with SSD-only storage systems; and
  • Augmenting storage system cache with NAND flash.

Server level flash only helps to address the performance requirements of a single server, and its capacity is both limited and not shareable.

The introduction of SSDs into traditional storage systems is often done in conjunction with storage tiering applications that migrate data based on its importance or priority via policy. Traditional storage systems also use legacy controllers that were originally designed for hard disk drives, not solid state, limiting the ability to attain full flash performance.

Replacing traditional storage systems with SSD-only storage systems is very disruptive, can eliminate existing investment protection, and significantly impacts capital and operational expenses.

Augmenting storage system cache with NAND flash often removes the control to pin specific workloads, “hot” files or applications to solid state storage. Additionally, caches are affected by the “locality” and “hit rate” of data. Eventually, caches fill up and have to be written to some device, be it a SSD or HDD.

Astute Networks believes that its “Networked Flash Application Performance Acceleration Appliances” solve many of these problems for companies with an existing investment in Ethernet based storage systems, such as those based on iSCSI. The company is managed by a team of seasoned executives, with deep expertise intersecting storage networking and data networking.

The company started out as a provider of devices that accelerates the TCP stack and iSCSI protocol processing through hardware-assisted offload. Its DataPump Engine ASIC is a key component of the appliances. Astute claims that its appliance

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is unique in that it “ensures sustained flash performance and network bandwidth over 1G or 10G Ethernet.” Other flash-based storage devices that connect via Ethernet typically run open source or Windows based network stack software running on generic x86 microprocessors. Astute Networks claims that the ViSX will provide a 5-10X performance advantage resulting from its patented DataPump Engine.

The ViSX appliance is distributed through an indirect channel-only model, with entry-level configurations starting under $20,000.

Neuralytix Perspective

While flash based storage systems are no longer a new concept; Astute Networks’ ViSX Networked Flash appliance is a new concept – a performance tier that is complementary to currently installed servers, networks, and storage. Astute Networks addresses a number significant concerns for most mid-sized organizations who want to exploit flash technology – how to protect their existing investments, minimize interruptions or process re-engineering, and improve the performance of critical workloads such as Virtual Desktops (VDI), virtualized databases (such as Microsoft SQL or Oracle) and other virtualized applications requiring high performance.

Astute Networks’ approach to augmenting existing Ethernet based storage networks by simply introducing its ViSX appliance to the network, and migrating desired or “hot” data stores to the appliance (such as VMware workloads), allows the end-user to protect the investment it has made in existing storage infrastructure. With VMware virtual machines, the end-user simply uses VMware’s Storage vMotion capabilities to seamlessly and non-disruptively migrate a virtual machine’s data store to the appliance, where it then resides with full performance.

This approach not only protects existing investments, but also allows smaller organizations to evolve their infrastructure over time. Unlike other flash based storage devices, the Astute Networks ViSX appliance does not come in configurations that have tens or hundreds of terabytes of available storage, as it is not intended as the user’s primary storage system. ViSX appliances are geared towards acceleration of specific virtualized environments, and are available in 2.4TB, 4.8TB and 9.6TB configurations. The smaller configurations accordingly, are more cost attractive compared to other flash based storage systems.

Currently, the ViSX appliance works only in Ethernet based environments. However, this should not be a hindrance to Astute Networks’ success as the Ethernet storage market is most popular with mid-sized companies and continues to grow aggressively. Neuralytix believes that it would serve Astute Networks well to consider an accompanying product for the still popular Fibre Channel market. Although, at the time of writing, Neuralytix also believes that Astute Networks stands alone in the way that the ViSX appliance operates.

One of the major challenges facing Astute Networks will be differentiating itself from similar solutions, including those that market themselves as SSD-only storage systems and traditional storage systems vendors who are expected to be fierce in the defense of their customers. Traditional storage system vendors, with their legacy controller architectures that restrict performance, are likely to entice their existing customers by suggesting to their customers to simply add SSDs to those storage systems capable of supporting SSDs or upgrading to the latest generation of storage systems that support SSDs.

Astute Networks should stay focused on its non-disruptive, asset preservation approach. It should also emphasize its heritage in the TCP offload space with its DataPump Engine. The combination of these two simple to understand and very consumable concepts should be sufficient to differentiate Astute Networks from the rest.

While traditional storage systems vendors are likely to be very defensive of its incumbency, Neuralytix believes that the reseller channel is most concerned about the reseller’s incumbency within a client. The ViSX appliance offers the reseller an opportunity to present a much more cost effective approach to performance enhancement. The investment by the end-user is incremental; the sales cycle should be relatively short, and the services opportunity, in terms of consulting and integration, is very attractive in terms of profitability for resellers.

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