Violin Memory Zeros In On Primary Storage Tier with New Flash Offerings

By Michael Feldman

September 27, 2011

The assault on hard disk storage seems to be building with each new flash memory offering. This week, Violin Memory launched a new solid state memory line aimed to replace primary storage in the datacenter. The Violin 6000 Series flash Memory Arrays is designed as an all-silicon storage solution for data-intensive enterprise applications, and is intended to compete against disk-based solutions in cost, both upfront and operationally.

The company also added to its 3200 Series flash lineup. Geared for maximum performance, capacity, and flexibility, the 3000 offerings are slightly lower on the storage food chain than the new 6000 line. The new entry, the 3U Violin 3220, doubles the storage capacity of the 3200 Series from 10 TB to 20 TB (16 TB usable) and delivers 250,000 IOPS.

The 6000 platform is the bigger news for the company though. It incorporates high-end enterprise features such as reliability/redundancy, high availability, serviceability, and scale-out management. As such, it extends Violins storage reach into high-end use cases for tier 1 storage, opening up a potentially much larger market. The 3U product comes in two flavors: the 6216 performance array (1M IOPS; 16 TB SLC flash, 12 TB usable) and the 6632 capacity array (500K IOPS; 32 TB MLC flash, 22 TB usable). For write endurance, the SLC-based 6216 would be the logical choice at 800 PB of writes, versus the 6632 at 100 PB.

Violin’s new 6000 and 3220 highlights the company’s focused strategy to displace traditional disk-based storage in the enterprise. Unlike many SSD vendors, who are primarily offering a high performance tier 0 cache between disk storage and memory, Violin is looking to penetrate more deeply into the datacenter. “Across our product line we believe we can deliver both lower CAPEX and OPEX for tier 0, tier 1 and tier 2 applications,” says Violin CEO Don Basile “We think we can remove those disks from the datacenter and end up with what we call a flash and trash strategy.”

A number of industry analysts, not to mention storage vendors, are touting the so-called “flash and trash” strategy, a two-tiered storage model, in which solid state drives are used for all active storage and cheap, high capacity SATA disks for data that needs saving, but not quick access. Basile argues that such a model has two big benefits: First, replacing spinning disk with solid state flash saves a boatload of money by reducing floor space and power usage; and second, storage infrastructure is simplified enormously by flattening all the active data tiers into a single layer.

Arun Taneja, founder and analyst at Taneja Group, thinks Violin is paving the path to eliminating HDD-based systems but it will take three or more years for that to happen. He also believes at least some customers are going to need other high-end features, like replication and snapshot capabilities, integrated into the storage system, which is something the initial 6000 boxes don’t support yet. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” notes Taneja. “The fact that Violin is involved in building Rome is what is really important, in my view.”

Meanwhile, Violin is picking off a lot of low-hanging fruit, especially where I/O performance is paramount. The company was in a recent bake-off in which the customer required 40 TB (usable) with 500,000 I/Os. According to Basile, for traditional vendors that mean six racks of disk, with sub-20 percent utilization. The upfront cost for the disk-based solution was about $3 million, plus more than $3 million more for operational expenses. The customer ended up with the Violin solution, a 3000 series flash array. It delivered the requisite 40 TB, along with much more than 500K I/Os at sub-$1 million CAPEX and sub-$1 million OPEX.

“That’s what our global CIOs are looking at as they make this transformation from these giant beasts that ruled the earth — these dinosaurs — to a more nimble viable infrastructure that scales,” says Basile. ” This is where we think the memory array is not a slightly better mousetrap, but a way to catch mice differently.”

Violin certainly seem to be on the right track. Since the company launched its first solid state storage product into the market just 13 months ago, they’ve been in growth-only mode. For the fiscal year ending in January, they’re expecting to take in $100 million in revenue. According to Basile, that trajectory places them about 4 years ahead of Isilon or 3PAR during their initial ramp up. “Our growth rates are faster than any storage company in history on a revenue basis,” says Basile, who as the former CEO of Fusion-io, must have a pretty good idea of what fast starts look like.

As a privately held company, Violin is living off $110 million in funding from a number of investors, the biggest ones being Toshiba (the maker of Violin’s flash memory components), Juniper Networks, and an unnamed system/storage vendor. They might be getting close to cashing in though. The company’s growth spurt has them thinking about a public offering, and, according to Basile, they are looking to file an IPO in Q1 or Q2 of 2012.

The Violin CEO thinks 2012 is shaping up to be a transition year, in which a lot of big enterprise accounts will move their data from disk to memory arrays as a core storage tier. The company is trying to quickly gear up to catch that wave, piggybacking on partner companies like IBM and HP to help reach those customers and manufacturing partner Flextronics to churn out product.
With a current head count of just over 220 employees, Violin expects to at least double that by the first quarter of 2012.

Violin’s three biggest industry targets are financial services, government, and internet properties. In partnership with HP, they’ve produced an alternative to Oracle’s popular Exadata database (DB) appliance. Besides vanilla database and analytics work, Violin storage can be used for a range of “big data” applications including backtesting trading strategies for Wall Street firms, accelerating advertising analytics for companies like AOL (where a petabyte of Violin storage is deployed), and serving up real-time advertisements to mobile clients.

In the government space, primarily US defense and intelligence, the use cases are not for public consumption, but one can safely assume that the Violin gear is behind some serious, high-IOPS data mining. The largest deployment there is just over a petabyte for an unnamed US government agency.

For HPC-type applications, the company is increasingly looking at Hadoop clustering and Cassandra/BigTable applications. In addition, they teamed with IBM to demonstrate record-breaking file system performance of Big Blue’s General Parallel File System (GPFS), using Violin 3205 flash arrays as the metadata accelerator. HPC in general seems a rich opportunity for Violin storage, especially for their 3000 series memory boxes.

The new 3220, 6216, and 6632 products are already shipping, with the new 3200 box generally available. In the case of the 6000 offerings, only Violin’s strategic partners and customers have access to them for the time being, with general availability slated for Q1 2012. Basile says they can’t make enough of them right now to keep up with demand, adding, “we’ve pretty much sold all of them for the next 12 weeks.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

HPC-as-a-Service Finds Toehold in Iceland

December 11, 2017

While high-demand workloads (e.g., bitcoin mining) can overheat data center cooling capabilities, at least one data center infrastructure provider has announced an HPC-as-a-service offering that features 100 percent fre Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be carefully woven together by people to create the computational c Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit and Sierra. The new AC922 server pairs two Power9 CPUs with f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Explore the Origins of Space with COSMOS and Memory-Driven Computing

From the formation of black holes to the origins of space, data is the key to unlocking the secrets of the early universe. Read more…

PEZY President Arrested, Charged with Fraud

December 6, 2017

The head of Japanese supercomputing firm PEZY Computing was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of defrauding a government institution of 431 million yen (~$3.8 million). According to reports in the Japanese press, PEZY founde Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be care Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft Spins Cycle Computing into Core Azure Product

December 5, 2017

Last August, cloud giant Microsoft acquired HPC cloud orchestration pioneer Cycle Computing. Since then the focus has been on integrating Cycle’s organization Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE In-Memory Platform Comes to COSMOS

November 30, 2017

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is on a mission to accelerate space research. In August, it sent the first commercial-off-the-shelf HPC system into space for testing Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Cluster Competition: Who Won and Why? Results Analyzed and Over-Analyzed

November 28, 2017

Everyone by now knows that Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU) took home the highest LINPACK Award and the Overall Championship from the recently concluded SC17 Student Cluster Competition. We also already know how the teams did in the Highest LINPACK and Highest HPCG competitions, with Nanyang grabbing bragging rights for both benchmarks. Read more…

By Dan Olds

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th Anniversary

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visit Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Share This