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!

Musk’s Latest Startup Eyes Brain-Computer Links

April 21, 2017

Elon Musk, the auto and space entrepreneur and severe critic of artificial intelligence, is forming a new venture that reportedly will seek to develop an interface between the human brain and computers. Read more…

By George Leopold

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Engine (GCE) job. Sutherland ran the massive mathematics workload on 220,000 GCE cores using preemptible virtual machine instances. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Cori Shows the World How Many-Cores for the Masses Works

April 21, 2017

As its mission, the high performance computing center for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, NERSC (the National Energy Research Supercomputer Center), supports a broad spectrum of forefront scientific research across diverse areas that includes climate, material science, chemistry, fusion energy, high-energy physics and many others. Read more…

By Rob Farber

Nvidia P100 Shows 1.3-2.3x Speedup Over K80 GPU on Financial Apps

April 20, 2017

When it comes to the true performance of the latest silicon, every end user knows that the best processor is the one that works best for their application. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Remote Visualization Optimizing Life Sciences Operations and Care Delivery

As patients continually demand a better quality of care and increasingly complex workloads challenge healthcare organizations to innovate, investing in the right technologies is key to ensuring growth and success. Read more…

Quantum Adds Global Smarts to StorNext File System

April 20, 2017

Companies that use Quantum’s StorNext platform to store massive amounts of data this week got a glimpse of new storage capabilities that should make it easier to access their data horde from anywhere in the world. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Scaling an HPC Career in Nepal Can Be a Steep Climb

April 20, 2017

Umesh Upadhyaya works as an IT Associate at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal, which supports the country’s one and only HPC facility. He is directly involved in an initiative that focuses on climate change and atmosphere modeling Read more…

By Nages Sieslack

Hyperion (IDC) Paints a Bullish Picture of HPC Future

April 20, 2017

Hyperion Research – formerly IDC’s HPC group – yesterday painted a fascinating and complicated portrait of the HPC community’s health and prospects at the HPC User Forum held in Albuquerque, NM. HPC sales are up and growing ($22 billion, all HPC segments, 2016). Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Open Sources All Lustre Work, Brent Gorda Exits

April 19, 2017

In a letter to the Lustre community posted on the Intel website, Vice President of Intel's Data Center Group Trish Damkroger writes that effective immediately the company will be contributing all Lustre development to the open source community. Damkroger also announced that Brent Gorda, General Manager, High Performance Data Division at Intel is leaving the company. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Cori Shows the World How Many-Cores for the Masses Works

April 21, 2017

As its mission, the high performance computing center for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, NERSC (the National Energy Research Supercomputer Center), supports a broad spectrum of forefront scientific research across diverse areas that includes climate, material science, chemistry, fusion energy, high-energy physics and many others. Read more…

By Rob Farber

Hyperion (IDC) Paints a Bullish Picture of HPC Future

April 20, 2017

Hyperion Research – formerly IDC’s HPC group – yesterday painted a fascinating and complicated portrait of the HPC community’s health and prospects at the HPC User Forum held in Albuquerque, NM. HPC sales are up and growing ($22 billion, all HPC segments, 2016). Read more…

By John Russell

Knights Landing Processor with Omni-Path Makes Cloud Debut

April 18, 2017

HPC cloud specialist Rescale is partnering with Intel and HPC resource provider R Systems to offer first-ever cloud access to Xeon Phi "Knights Landing" processors. The infrastructure is based on the 68-core Intel Knights Landing processor with integrated Omni-Path fabric (the 7250F Xeon Phi). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CERN openlab Explores New CPU/FPGA Processing Solutions

April 14, 2017

Through a CERN openlab project known as the ‘High-Throughput Computing Collaboration,’ researchers are investigating the use of various Intel technologies in data filtering and data acquisition systems. Read more…

By Linda Barney

DOE Supercomputer Achieves Record 45-Qubit Quantum Simulation

April 13, 2017

In order to simulate larger and larger quantum systems and usher in an age of “quantum supremacy,” researchers are stretching the limits of today’s most advanced supercomputers. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Penguin Takes a Run at the Big Cloud Providers

April 12, 2017

HPC specialist Penguin Computing recently re-ran benchmarks from a study of its larger brethren and says the results show its ‘public cloud’ – Penguin on Demand (POD) – is among the leaders in cost and performance. 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

HPC and the Colocation Datacenter – a Bridge Too Far?

April 7, 2017

A more standardised HPC platform approach is making the running of HPC projects within increasing financial reach. Read more…

By Clive Longbottom, Quocirca

Google Pulls Back the Covers on Its First Machine Learning Chip

April 6, 2017

This week Google released a report detailing the design and performance characteristics of the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), its custom ASIC for the inference phase of neural networks (NN). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

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

Leading Solution Providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. 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

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