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SanDisk officially launched its InfiniFlash all-flash storage system on March 3, 2015, ending months of industry speculation about its specifications and capabilities.  It is a data-dense, high-capacity system that is built on a modular, scale-out framework – that scales up to provide 512 TB of capacity in 3U rackable product.

The largest InfiniFlash customers – especially hyperscale and cloud-centric service providers — would likely install multiple units, creating multi-PB footprints in large data centers, reducing rack-space requirements by as much as two-thirds (3:1 consolidation ratio). It was designed to support competitive price-points for flash-based arrays. SanDisk said InfiniFlash will reduce flash-storage costs, bringing them below the $2/GB level for the hardware and software solution or $1/GB level for hardware-only, while delivering sub-millisecond latency.

This is an important product for SanDisk, marking a new direction in its product portfolio. Specifications can be seen in the announcement itself, here.

Multiple Customer Profiles

InfiniFlash is designed to meet the mass-storage needs of Big Data/Analytics, scalable databases, scaleout NoSQL databases and Cloud Storage. Customers with these scalable workloads need capacity and scalability to provide IT flexibility. These customers see extreme variation in demand for data throughout a 24-hour production cycle. They include hyperscale companies that design their own data centers and build out their own infrastructure — and enterprise customers with highly scalable Big Data requirements. They are also seeing the difficulties inherent in scaling up Hadoop clusters, while maintaining data locality.

Yet, these are very different types of customers, with different acquisition patterns and different IT planning cycles. Both types of customers see the same need to deal with huge amounts of data – and to do so cost-effectively — but their data center deployments create different patterns of use.

  • For hyperscale companies, such as very large social media firms and cloud services providers, InfiniFlash can address the demand for scale-up capacity, high performance and modular design. SanDisk developed InfiniFlash to reduce software-licensing costs via consolidation, and to reduce overall power/cooling – both of which result in reduced Opex – a key consideration for large hyperscale data centers with highly competitive pricing models.
  • Enterprise companies will have multiple choices for leveraging InfiniFlash, including direct acquisition for in-house deployments – and the use of cloud workloads that are delivered by their service providers or cloud providers. This reflects the reality that enterprises are increasingly using Big Data/Analytics data services provided by third-party companies. These customers will also evaluate other vendors’ all-flash-arrays (AFAs) to support similar workloads, making competitive price/performance essential for InfiniFlash in this market space.
  • Key workloads are those that feature random I/O access and high-speed streaming of data characterized by high-performance solid-state arrays. This would include content repositories, media/entertainment streaming media, and Big Data/analytics. For this class of product, the big bet is that supporting the same workloads with hard-disk-drives (HDDs) would provide less capacity and less data-density than all-flash arrays (AFA) – and that HDD-based arrays would occupy more data-center space at more total aggregate cost (capex and opex).

How It Works

InfiniFlash systems are built with SanDisk designed and manufactured 8 TB flash cards, rather than with SanDisk’s SATA-based or SAS-based SSDs. This differentiates InfiniFlash from the all-flash arrays (AFAs) that leverage SanDisk SSDs as the basic building-blocks for solid-state storage.

Each InfiniFlash system has up to 64 hot-swappable cards – and each card has 8 TB of flash capacity. Within a single 3u rack unit, the system provides 512 TB (half a petabyte) of capacity. Each of these 3u units can connect with up to eight off-the-shelf industry-standard servers. This means the arrays could be built out, Lego-style, into a multi-PB storage infrastructure. At the same time, InfiniFlash is meant to support footprint consolidation, by storing more data per square inch than other types of AFAs – again addressing a key concern of hyperscale data centers.

The company turned to open-source software, including Ceph, from the Open Stack project, as a foundation for the software stack that supports the platform management software and data-path optimization services. SanDisk engineers wrote InfiniFlash data-management software on that stack. In addition, SanDisk will offer a software development kit (SDK) to allow customers to extend or modify the data-management and data-optimization software.

There are three InfiniFlash models – the IF100, a hardware-only storage appliance with up to 512TB in a 3u form factor supporting up to 1-million IOPS; the IF500 which also adds Ceph open-source software; and the IF700, which leverages the Fusion ION Accelerator platform and the InfiniFlash OS ION operating system for workload acceleration. (NOTE: Neuralytix notes that SanDisk acquired Fusion-io in July, 2014).

The IF500, was designed to fit seamlessly with the open-source software environment controlling hyperscale data centers for both block and object storage, while the IF700 addresses block-based enterprise workloads. All three models were available for order, as of the March 3 announcement.

Hyperscale Customers Are Key

SanDisk likely sees hyperscale data centers as the first, and leading, landing place for InfiniFlash, given their need for flexible deployments, scalability and reduced Opex. For hyperscalers, flexible deployments and the ability to scale quickly, with QoS (quality of service), is key to their business plans. For these reasons, SanDisk has identified hyperscale and cloud data services data centers as a focus for rapid growth in sales of highly dense flash-based systems

Enterprise customers should also see the utility of InfiniFlash, given the huge amounts of data generated by daily, weekly and monthly transactional processing – combined with the large amounts of non-traditional data generated by Social Media, Mobile Devices and Cloud Computing.

A New Sales Model

An important constituency, SanDisk’s OEM systems partners, will have the option of combining the InfiniFlash offering with their own server products – and of relabeling it under their OEM brand. They will have to decide whether to integrate InfiniFlash into a combined SanDisk/OEM offering, to adopt a go-to-market (GTM) model with SanDisk – or to compete directly with the InfiniFlash storage system.

SanDisk must address the OEM systems marketplace carefully, explaining its evolving business model. Historically, most of SanDisk’s enterprise storage sales have been based on its partnership with large OEMs, such as HP and Dell.

With this offering, SanDisk has a new opportunity – to sell an all-flash-array under its own brand name. This offering will allow large service providers to acquire infrastructure in larger “chunks,” inclusive of Tier 1 data services, such as compression, replication, and thin provisioning. That’s a different offer for SanDisk, because it usually combines its flash products with Tier 1 data services software provided by its OEM partners in OEM-branded all-flash-arrays.

The evolution of the SanDisk ecosystem is implied by the InfiniFlash launch. In its March 3 press release, SanDisk emphasized that it: ”continues to work with its OEM partners to bring innovative flash solutions to market. SanDisk will also leverage its relationships with channel partners, value-added resellers (VARs) and system integrators to deploy InfiniFlash and other SanDisk flash-powered solutions for enterprise and hyperscale customers.”

This means that SanDisk is working to maintain its longtime OEM relationships, even as it broadens its TAM by selling directly to cloud and hyperscale customers, and expands its ecosystem by adding more channel partners and VARs. Even so, SanDisk must communicate its plans clearly – and explore how this announcement could lead to a co-opetition model with its partners in the storage-array market. Another approach would be to have OEMs adopt InfiniFlash as a product to be offered within their brand-name solutions, under their OEM label.

Conclusion

The data tsunami facing all customers brings a new avenue of selling all-flash-arrays to data centers. Given the demands for more capacity and performance in a Big Data world, SanDisk sees this opportunity as an avenue to broaden its product portfolio with a systems-level offering, InfiniFlash, that brings data-density and scalability to a price-sensitive marketplace.

InfiniFlash is a strong offering that was carefully designed to address pressing business requirements for hyperscale data centers and Big Data/Analytics customers in the broader enterprise space – and to do so at competitive pricing to lower TCO. The opportunities to sell high-performance AFAs into data center infrastructure will grow, given the new realities of the marketplace. This is a rapidly evolving space, with more competitors likely to enter, making price/performance and support for serviceability key considerations for all vendors, going forward.

 

 

Note: Jean Bozman most recently worked at SanDisk, but has not included any proprietary information in this report. Rather, this research note is based on analysis of publicly announced marketing materials and product specifications released through the March 3, 2015, launch.