The storage systems market is a mature market. Not since the disruption of the magnetic hard disk drive or the availability of RAID has the market become so abuzz with renewed interest and excitement. The affordability and accessibility of NAND flash has dramatically changed the economics of the storage systems market.
As Neuralytix will report, in its upcoming report entitled The Full Spectrum of Solid State (Neuralytix report 2012-19355, August, 2012), NAND flash can be deployed at various form factors and in various points along the data path.
Emerging as the most hotly contested part of the overall storage market, that of the all-flash storage system, also recognized as a Solid State Storage Systems (SSSS). In short, a SSSS is analogous to a traditional storage system, but it uses NAND flash in place of traditional magnetic rotating media. The key differentiator of a SSSS is its inclusion of data management services such as snapshots, de-duplication, etc. Without it, it would simply be a solid state storage device (SSSD), and not a storage system.
Many SSSS vendors integrate solid state disks (SSDs), NAND-flash enclosed in a disk drive form factor with integrated electronics to make the flash look and act like a traditional HDD. Some use traditional RAID controllers, and many leverage software to enable wear-leveling and other flash-specific technologies. All SSSS vendors leverage industry standard storage protocols (such as iSCSI and FC/FCoE) and industry standard storage networking equipment (switches and bridges) to internetwork with hosts.
Some purists argue that these layers added to the flash memory defeat the purpose of using solid state technologies and introduces unnecessary latency and complexity into the mix.
Skyera, a San Jose, CA based company, has taken this purist position, and has developed the Skyhawk SSSS that it claims is optimized from flash to the storage network. Skyera has designed, developed and engineered everything from the NAND flash memory through the storage controller, through the data redundancy (RAID) controller as well as the storage network interface.
Skyera has brought together an impressive number of executives with backgrounds that stretch the spectrum of the varied technologies necessary to bring together the Skyhawk product.
Equally different, is Skyera’s decision to use consumer grade flash memory. Until now, SSSS’s and SSSD’s have leveraged SLC (single level cell) and MLC (multi level cell). Some vendors also use eMLC (enterprise MLC) flash. eMLC delivers higher erase/program cycles while still maintaining cost effectiveness. Skyera is the first SSSS vendor to use consumer MLC, the same type of flashed commonly found in USB flash drives. It claims that through its proprietary controller technology, it is able to provide comparable or better performance and endurance as eMLC.
Finally, the Skyhawk also has integrated switching and networking technologies, providing 40 ports of gigabit Ethernet. Skyera claims that this eliminates yet another layer of unnecessary complexity and results in the highest possible performance.
Skyera’s use of consumer MLC, and its proprietary design from flash to network enables them to achieve new heights in terms of performance, and new lows in terms of cost.
As mentioned earlier, Skyera enters an already highly competitive market. It will face a number of challenges as it attempts to make a discernible mark in the SSSS market. Firstly, the use of consumer grade MLC NAND flash will be the first thing its prospective customers and competitors will question. It will need to address whether the media will stand the endurance of time, and sustain the necessary performance. In its defense, many consumer technologies have withstood both the test of time, performance, and enterprise readiness. Even in the storage market, the initial use of SCSI drives, or in more recent times, SATA drives were put to question in terms of their enterprise readiness. Both technologies outlasted their predecessors, and today, SATA is a de facto and accepted standard for mass storage in the enterprise. Now, Skyera has the opportunity to challenge the need for SLC and MLC/eMLC and prove their position.
Skyera will also be challenged on how a small, self-funded start up will be able to sustain research, development, engineering and support of its proprietary technologies. Neuralytix research indicates that Skyera’s CEO, Radoslav Danilak, is presently relying on strategic investors rather than venture capital to fund the company. Only time will determine how successful this approach will be
Skyera is interested, in its words, to “take over mainstream enterprise storage”. At launch, Neuralytix believes that many of its opportunities include industries that tend to use industry standard clusters – such as energy, life sciences and those companies desiring to deploy Big Data analytics (such as Hadoop) platforms. Neuralytix believes that until Skyera releases Fibre Channel (FC) support and network-attached storage (NAS) support, mainstream enterprise adoption may be stunted.
Despite all these challenges, Skyera does present an interesting alternative to other SSSS vendors. Its approach, if successful, will dramatically change the landscape of not only all-flash storage, but storage systems in general. This is a bold move, but a worthy one.
Initially, Neuralytix believes Skyera needs to look at the fast growing mid-market. The mid-market will be more receptive to the cost effectiveness of using consumer MLC. The mid-market will also be attracted to the fully integrated approach presented by Skyera. This is not to say that Skyera should ignore large enterprise, but it needs to recognize that large enterprise has not traditionally been very quick to adopt consumer-derived technologies.
Other vendors in the SSSS market need to also pay attention to Skyera. Although pioneering in nature, the only current way of reducing the cost of SSSS and make SSSS compete profitably against traditional hard disk drive (HDD) based storage systems is to look at leveraging new media. The integrated (some would argue, converged) approach that Skyera has taken is aligned with the overall IT industry direction of appliances and highly converged infrastructure.
In summary, Skyera and Skyhawk represents one of the most innovative designs to date in terms of solid-state storage systems.