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!

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. The pilots, supported in part by DOE exascale funding, not only seek to do good by advancing cancer research and therapy but also to advance deep learning capabilities and infrastructure with an eye towards eventual use on exascale machines. Read more…

By John Russell

DDN Enables 50TB/Day Trans-Pacific Data Transfer for Yahoo Japan

December 6, 2016

Transferring data from one data center to another in search of lower regional energy costs isn’t a new concept, but Yahoo Japan is putting the idea into transcontinental effect with a system that transfers 50TB of data a day from Japan to the U.S., where electricity costs a quarter of the rates in Japan. Read more…

By Doug Black

Infographic Highlights Career of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

December 5, 2016

Dr. Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an early pioneer of computer science and one of the most famous women achievers in a field dominated by men. Read more…

By Staff

Ganthier, Turkel on the Dell EMC Road Ahead

December 5, 2016

Who is Dell EMC and why should you care? Glad you asked is Jim Ganthier’s quick response. Ganthier is SVP for validated solutions and high performance computing for the new (even bigger) technology giant Dell EMC following Dell’s acquisition of EMC in September. In this case, says Ganthier, the blending of the two companies is a 1+1 = 5 proposition. Not bad math if you can pull it off. Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Embraces FPGAs, ‘Elastic’ GPUs

December 2, 2016

A new instance type rolled out this week by Amazon Web Services is based on customizable field programmable gate arrays that promise to strike a balance between performance and cost as emerging workloads create requirements often unmet by general-purpose processors. Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petabyte ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Dec. 1, 2016)

December 1, 2016

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

HPC Career Notes (Dec. 2016)

December 1, 2016

In this monthly feature, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high performance computing community. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

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. The pilots, supported in part by DOE exascale funding, not only seek to do good by advancing cancer research and therapy but also to advance deep learning capabilities and infrastructure with an eye towards eventual use on exascale machines. Read more…

By John Russell

Ganthier, Turkel on the Dell EMC Road Ahead

December 5, 2016

Who is Dell EMC and why should you care? Glad you asked is Jim Ganthier’s quick response. Ganthier is SVP for validated solutions and high performance computing for the new (even bigger) technology giant Dell EMC following Dell’s acquisition of EMC in September. In this case, says Ganthier, the blending of the two companies is a 1+1 = 5 proposition. Not bad math if you can pull it off. Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petabyte ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. 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

Seagate-led SAGE Project Delivers Update on Exascale Goals

November 29, 2016

Roughly a year and a half after its launch, the SAGE exascale storage project led by Seagate has delivered a substantive interim report – Data Storage for Extreme Scale. 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

HPE-SGI to Tackle Exascale and Enterprise Targets

November 22, 2016

At first blush, and maybe second blush too, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) purchase of SGI seems like an unambiguous win-win. SGI’s advanced shared memory technology, its popular UV product line (Hanna), deep vertical market expertise, and services-led go-to-market capability all give HPE a leg up in its drive to remake itself. Bear in mind HPE came into existence just a year ago with the split of Hewlett-Packard. The computer landscape, including HPC, is shifting with still unclear consequences. One wonders who’s next on the deal block following Dell’s recent merger with EMC. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Details AI Hardware Strategy for Post-GPU Age

November 21, 2016

Last week at SC16, Intel revealed its product roadmap for embedding its processors with key capabilities and attributes needed to take artificial intelligence (AI) to the next level. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Why 2016 Is the Most Important Year in HPC in Over Two Decades

August 23, 2016

In 1994, two NASA employees connected 16 commodity workstations together using a standard Ethernet LAN and installed open-source message passing software that allowed their number-crunching scientific application to run on the whole “cluster” of machines as if it were a single entity. Read more…

By Vincent Natoli, Stone Ridge Technology

IBM Advances Against x86 with Power9

August 30, 2016

After offering OpenPower Summit attendees a limited preview in April, IBM is unveiling further details of its next-gen CPU, Power9, which the tech mainstay is counting on to regain market share ceded to rival Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Beats Azure to K80 General Availability

September 30, 2016

Amazon Web Services has seeded its cloud with Nvidia Tesla K80 GPUs to meet the growing demand for accelerated computing across an increasingly-diverse range of workloads. The P2 instance family is a welcome addition for compute- and data-focused users who were growing frustrated with the performance limitations of Amazon's G2 instances, which are backed by three-year-old Nvidia GRID K520 graphics cards. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Think Fast – Is Neuromorphic Computing Set to Leap Forward?

August 15, 2016

Steadily advancing neuromorphic computing technology has created high expectations for this fundamentally different approach to computing. Read more…

By John Russell

The Exascale Computing Project Awards $39.8M to 22 Projects

September 7, 2016

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) hit an important milestone today with the announcement of its first round of funding, moving the nation closer to its goal of reaching capable exascale computing by 2023. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Gobbles SGI for Larger Slice of $11B HPC Pie

August 11, 2016

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced today that it will acquire rival HPC server maker SGI for $7.75 per share, or about $275 million, inclusive of cash and debt. The deal ends the seven-year reprieve that kept the SGI banner flying after Rackable Systems purchased the bankrupt Silicon Graphics Inc. for $25 million in 2009 and assumed the SGI brand. Bringing SGI into its fold bolsters HPE's high-performance computing and data analytics capabilities and expands its position... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ARM Unveils Scalable Vector Extension for HPC at Hot Chips

August 22, 2016

ARM and Fujitsu today announced a scalable vector extension (SVE) to the ARMv8-A architecture intended to enhance ARM capabilities in HPC workloads. Fujitsu is the lead silicon partner in the effort (so far) and will use ARM with SVE technology in its post K computer, Japan’s next flagship supercomputer planned for the 2020 timeframe. This is an important incremental step for ARM, which seeks to push more aggressively into mainstream and HPC server markets. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Debuts Power8 Chip with NVLink and Three New Systems

September 8, 2016

Not long after revealing more details about its next-gen Power9 chip due in 2017, IBM today rolled out three new Power8-based Linux servers and a new version of its Power8 chip featuring Nvidia’s NVLink interconnect. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Vectors: How the Old Became New Again in Supercomputing

September 26, 2016

Vector instructions, once a powerful performance innovation of supercomputing in the 1970s and 1980s became an obsolete technology in the 1990s. But like the mythical phoenix bird, vector instructions have arisen from the ashes. Here is the history of a technology that went from new to old then back to new. Read more…

By Lynd Stringer

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

Intel Launches Silicon Photonics Chip, Previews Next-Gen Phi for AI

August 18, 2016

At the Intel Developer Forum, held in San Francisco this week, Intel Senior Vice President and General Manager Diane Bryant announced the launch of Intel's Silicon Photonics product line and teased a brand-new Phi product, codenamed "Knights Mill," aimed at machine learning workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Beyond von Neumann, Neuromorphic Computing Steadily Advances

March 21, 2016

Neuromorphic computing – brain inspired computing – has long been a tantalizing goal. The human brain does with around 20 watts what supercomputers do with megawatts. And power consumption isn’t the only difference. Fundamentally, brains ‘think differently’ than the von Neumann architecture-based computers. While neuromorphic computing progress has been intriguing, it has still not proven very practical. Read more…

By John Russell

Dell EMC Engineers Strategy to Democratize HPC

September 29, 2016

The freshly minted Dell EMC division of Dell Technologies is on a mission to take HPC mainstream with a strategy that hinges on engineered solutions, beginning with a focus on three industry verticals: manufacturing, research and life sciences. "Unlike traditional HPC where everybody bought parts, assembled parts and ran the workloads and did iterative engineering, we want folks to focus on time to innovation and let us worry about the infrastructure," said Jim Ganthier, senior vice president, validated solutions organization at Dell EMC Converged Platforms Solution Division. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Container App ‘Singularity’ Eases Scientific Computing

October 20, 2016

HPC container platform Singularity is just six months out from its 1.0 release but already is making inroads across the HPC research landscape. It's in use at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), where Singularity founder Gregory Kurtzer has worked in the High Performance Computing Services (HPCS) group for 16 years. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Micron, Intel Prepare to Launch 3D XPoint Memory

August 16, 2016

Micron Technology used last week’s Flash Memory Summit to roll out its new line of 3D XPoint memory technology jointly developed with Intel while demonstrating the technology in solid-state drives. Micron claimed its Quantx line delivers PCI Express (PCIe) SSD performance with read latencies at less than 10 microseconds and writes at less than 20 microseconds. Read more…

By George Leopold

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