Virtualization Tier -1? The Tale of Fusion IO, EMC Lightning, & IO Turbine

Amazing.

In less than one year I’ve seen the industry rampantly move from SAN based SSD as the almighty “Tier 0” ultimate way to get performance.  Slide after slide.  EMC with FastCache & FastVP.  NetApp touting FlashCache & now SSD (note NetApp with an interesting PCIe Flash solution within the array and not a SSD to start).  EQ with hybrid arrays of both SSD and disk.  Etc.

Then comes Fusion IO.  Amen right brother??!! PCIe based SSD that’s much faster than a SAN based SSD because it’s “closer to CPU and bus”.  Has a new tier emerged?  “Tier 0” was the fastest so is this now “Tier -1”?.  One little catch….. you can’t vmotion or “live migrate” (for the 2 % of you using non-vmware).  So we’re back to DAS??  Note; some like Brian Madden are cheering for DAS architected options in VDI.

Unless you create a science project with a Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) to aggregate the PCIe boards you really don’t have great options for “elasticity”.  So along comes EMC with Project Lightning.  At EMCworld Mr. Geslinger announces that come November we’ll have a new tier of storage than brings the workloads closer to the CPU and bus http://www.emc.com/about/news/press/2011/20110509-05.htm  This announcement seems to be a PCIe card and software from EMC that will act a bit like PowerPath as a host based software that will work with an extension of FastVP to move actively utilized performance data from the array up to the tier -1 assets.  At least that’s my interpretation.

Before EMCworld I was getting a preview of the company that just stole a bit of the buzz EMC created.  IOTurbine http://www.ioturbine.com/ has come to market with a Windows 2008 R2 Server based software package that acts like a turbine for the i/o generated within that OS in the guest.  It will leverage PCIe SSD resources like Fusion IO and others but because it’s guest OS based it can extend VMotion ability to a VM farm of servers.  In fact you can even VMotion from a server that has the a DAS tier -1 card to one that doesn’t.  The guest OS will simply move from an optimized i/o (turbine) state to a non-optimized i/o state.  I look forward to this solution getting vetted out in the industry over the months to come.  At EMCworld Chris Wolf, Sr. Analyst w/Gartner http://www.chriswolf.com/ also @cswolf, gave me some of his glowing impressions of how slick IOTurbine’s approach to this market is.  Stay tuned as you can imagine the implications for tier 1 app, VDI, and Cloud.

As for EMC and others we’ll have to wait and see.  FastVP will be the key for EMC but I think the X-factor will be a PowerPath like capability to provide the need elasticity needed in our progressing clouds.  Otherwise you have tier -1 that might feel fast but also feel like a High Availability minus.

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