Startup Aims to Upend Enterprise Storage with MLC Flash-Based Systems

By Michael Feldman

August 14, 2012

Silicon Valley startup Skyera has unveiled a solid state storage system that the company believes will be a game changer for enterprise storage. The product, known as Skyhawk, will use consumer-grade multi-level cell (MLC) flash memory as the basis for a bulk storage solution at a price point of less than $3 per gigabyte. As such, it is designed to compete head-to-head against hard disk-based storage, while offering the superior performance, density and energy efficiency of flash memory.

Although solid state enterprise storage is growing rapidly, it still represents just a small fraction of the $32 billion storage market, mainly because it can’t compete on a cost-capacity basis with spinning disks. The current flash-based solutions today tend to be used as tier 0 storage caches or for data-bound applications where the higher IOPS warrants more expensive capacity. Skyera wants to change that dynamic by employing the cheapest flash in the industry — consumer MLC NAND — and go after the heart of the market. “We are going to challenge the status quo of enterprise storage,” says Skyera’s marketing VP, Tony Barbagallo.

The driving force and behind Skyera is CEO Radoslav Danilak, whose resume includes the founding of SandForce, a flash controller startup that was subsequently sold to LSI for $370 million. He also did a stint at NVIDIA as a chip architect on the Tesla GPU products. Danilak, along with SandForce alum Rod Mullendore, founded Skyera in 2010, with the mission to bring next-generation flash-based systems to the enterprise.

Also on the team are industry veterans Ken Takeuchi (NAND flash designer at Toshiba), Frankie Roohparvar (flash development exec at Micron), Dave Martin (CEO Hitachi Data Systems), Alessandro Fin (product development PNY, SMART Modular Technologies), Roy D Cruz (networking and storage architect Cisco, Brocade, Andiamo), and Dave Ferretti (sales exec at Zetta, StoredIQ, EVault).

That diversity of talent (chip development, storage system design, and networking expertise) was brought together to build Skyhawk. In a nutshell, the new offering wraps a series of “life amplification” technologies around consumer-grade MLC flash so that it behaves more like reliable enterprise-grade SLC (single-level cell) flash. . The company is claiming a Skyhawk setup will be able to deliver a complete SAN system at under $3 per gigabyte and under a $1 per gigabyte with compression and deduplication. That would provide price parity with the HDD-based bulk storage solutions.

Building a general-purpose flash-based system as inexpensive as one using high-capacity SATA drives has never been done before. The most critical challenge for flash in the datacenter is its limited lifetime, especially in regard to writing data. SLC technology can support about 100,000 writes for a given bit before a failure can be expected. That’s is about 50 times as many writes as can be coaxed from consumer MLC. Unfortunately, SLC costs two to three times as much, which means customers pay a significant premium for the extra reliability.

Enterprise MLC (eMLC) is basically a compromise between the SLC and MLC and has been adopted by a number of SSD and flash storage vendors. These companies bring eMLC up to SLC-level robustness by layering on extra flash controller smarts that optimizes write behavior (ECC, wear leveling, caching, etc.). But neither SLC or eMLC can provide the basis for a cost-competitive solution for hard disk storage.

So Skyera went one step further and chose vanilla MLC for their solution. But to give MLC-based storage the 5-year lifespan required for enterprise duty, a number of technologies had to be included to compensate for its natural lack of robustness. “There is no single magic bullet to do that,” Danilak told HPCwire.

First, Skyera built an industrial-strength flash controller that employs adaptive ECC algorithms (patent-pending) to correct for errant bits and optimizes write behavior at the chip level to significantly reduce oxide wear on the NAND devices. Further, they invented a proprietary RAID technology to protect the data in such a way that minimizes extra writes. Finally, the engineers added in-line compression and deduplication to further reduce the write (and read) load on the flash chips. According to Danilak, in aggregate they were able to increase the lifetime of the underlying MLC flash a 100-fold, which allowed them to reach their 5-year usage goal.

Performance is rated at up to a million IOPS per node, which is 25 times better than that of a spinning disk. In general MLC performance is inferior to SLC, but Danilak maintains the difference is less than usually thought, and since Skyera does write optimization, error correction, and compression/dedupe all in hardware, they don’t lose as much performance as a solution that relies on a software assist. In any case, even cheap flash is going to be a lot faster than a spinning disk.

And because Skyera is using the latest 19/20nm MLC technology, their solution is extra dense. A Skyhawk box is able to house up to 44 TB of usable storage (48 TB actual) into a half-depth 1U form factor. That’s probably the densest flash-based storage enclosure on the market and more than 100 times as compact as an HDD system of similar capacity, even using the latest 3TB SATA drives.

To live up to its enterprise-ready credentials, Skyhawk incorporates a software stack expected of typical SAN systems, including snapshots, clones, storage QoS, multi-path support, consistency groups, performance monitoring, LUN management, thin provisioning, and dynamic resizing.

Skyera also integrates internal networking to relieve the communication bottleneck caused by the high bandwidth flash. A Skyhawk box is equipped with 40 Gigabit Ethernet and three 10GbE ports that can hook the storage directly to servers or to intermediate Ethernet switches.

For its initial debut, Skyhawk will come in three configurations 12TB ($48,000), 22 TB ($77,000) and 44TB ($131,000). If the customer chooses to buy the extra capacity enabled by the compression/dedupe feature, disk capacity can be more than doubled. For example, the 44TB configuration becomes a 100TB box. The compression and deduplication processing is actually always turned on since it’s used to extend the lifetime of the MLC flash, but Skyera will charge a 20 to 30 percent premium over the base price if the customer wants to access the extra capacity.

As long as the application needs those extra terabytes, paying that premium is a no-brainer, since it can drive the cost per gigabyte down below a $1. But some customers might get a little tweaked that they’re essentially paying for the same feature twice.

Although Skyhawk has the potential to become a breakthrough bulk storage product, a handful of other vendors are offering MLC-based solutions, including STEC, SMART Storage Systems and Pure Storage. Like Skyera, they are using a variety of error correction and write optimization schemes to improve the usable lifetime of the flash storage. From Danilak’s perspective, he thinks Skyera has the edge until his competitors “figure out how to get write amplification technology like we have.”

General availability for Skyhawk is planned for the first quarter of 2013, but for select customers, the company has an early access program that will make systems available in Q3 2012. And if you’re really eager to see one in action, Skyera will be demonstrating Skyhawk next week at the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California.

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!

Advancing Modular Supercomputing with DEEP and DEEP-ER Architectures

February 24, 2017

Knowing that the jump to exascale will require novel architectural approaches capable of delivering dramatic efficiency and performance gains, researchers around the world are hard at work on next-generation HPC systems. Read more…

By Sean Thielen

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Feb. 23, 2017)

February 23, 2017

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

HPE Server Shows Low Latency on STAC-N1 Test

February 22, 2017

The performance of trade and match servers can be a critical differentiator for financial trading houses. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Financial Update (Feb. 2017)

February 22, 2017

In this recurring feature, we’ll provide you with financial highlights from companies in the HPC industry. Check back in regularly for an updated list with the most pertinent fiscal information. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Manufacturers Reaping the Benefits of Remote Visualization

Today’s manufacturers are operating in an ever-changing atmosphere, and finding new ways to boost productivity has never been more vital.

This is why manufacturers are ramping up their investments in high performance computing (HPC), a trend which has helped give rise to the “connected factory” and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) concepts that are proliferating throughout the industry today. Read more…

Rethinking HPC Platforms for ‘Second Gen’ Applications

February 22, 2017

Just what constitutes HPC and how best to support it is a keen topic currently. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDC: Will the Real Exascale Race Please Stand Up?

February 21, 2017

So the exascale race is on. And lots of organizations are in the pack. Government announcements from the US, China, India, Japan, and the EU indicate that they are working hard to make it happen – some sooner, some later. Read more…

By Bob Sorensen, IDC

ExxonMobil, NCSA, Cray Scale Reservoir Simulation to 700,000+ Processors

February 17, 2017

In a scaling breakthrough for oil and gas discovery, ExxonMobil geoscientists report they have harnessed the power of 717,000 processors – the equivalent of 22,000 32-processor computers – to run complex oil and gas reservoir simulation models. Read more…

By Doug Black

Advancing Modular Supercomputing with DEEP and DEEP-ER Architectures

February 24, 2017

Knowing that the jump to exascale will require novel architectural approaches capable of delivering dramatic efficiency and performance gains, researchers around the world are hard at work on next-generation HPC systems. Read more…

By Sean Thielen

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDC: Will the Real Exascale Race Please Stand Up?

February 21, 2017

So the exascale race is on. And lots of organizations are in the pack. Government announcements from the US, China, India, Japan, and the EU indicate that they are working hard to make it happen – some sooner, some later. Read more…

By Bob Sorensen, IDC

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Drug Developers Use Google Cloud HPC in the Fight Against ALS

February 16, 2017

Within the haystack of a lethal disease such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis / Lou Gehrig’s Disease) there exists, somewhere, the needle that will pierce this therapy-resistant affliction. Read more…

By Doug Black

Azure Edges AWS in Linpack Benchmark Study

February 15, 2017

The “when will clouds be ready for HPC” question has ebbed and flowed for years. Read more…

By John Russell

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy

November 14, 2016

The 48th edition of the TOP500 list is fresh off the presses and while there is no new number one system, as previously teased by China, there are a number of notable entrants from the US and around the world and significant trends to report on. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

D-Wave SC16 Update: What’s Bo Ewald Saying These Days

November 18, 2016

Tucked in a back section of the SC16 exhibit hall, quantum computing pioneer D-Wave has been talking up its new 2000-qubit processor announced in September. Forget for a moment the criticism sometimes aimed at D-Wave. This small Canadian company has sold several machines including, for example, ones to Lockheed and NASA, and has worked with Google on mapping machine learning problems to quantum computing. In July Los Alamos National Laboratory took possession of a 1000-quibit D-Wave 2X system that LANL ordered a year ago around the time of SC15. Read more…

By John Russell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell Knights Landing Machine Sets New STAC Records

November 2, 2016

The Securities Technology Analysis Center, commonly known as STAC, has released a new report characterizing the performance of the Knight Landing-based Dell PowerEdge C6320p server on the STAC-A2 benchmarking suite, widely used by the financial services industry to test and evaluate computing platforms. The Dell machine has set new records for both the baseline Greeks benchmark and the large Greeks benchmark. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

Intel and Trump Announce $7B for Fab 42 Targeting 7nm

February 8, 2017

In what may be an attempt by President Trump to reset his turbulent relationship with the high tech industry, he and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich today announced plans to invest more than $7 billion to complete Fab 42. Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This