Violin Memory Pushing Flash Arrays into Tier 1 Storage

The company's new arrays, built for "big data-type" workloads, bring new levels of performance to the table with full enterprise reliability in a 3U SAN-attached platform.

Solid-state storage provider Violin Memory on Sept. 27 introduced a new series of NAND flash arrays, describing them as the industry's first all-silicon storage systems.

Violin's 6000 Series flash memory arrays are intended to push solid-state storage from spot deployments, where it is used most frequently, into the front tier of storage systems. Violin uses the newest single-level cell (SLC) and two-bit per cell multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash from its chief investor Toshiba.

The new arrays are built for "big data-type" workloads, CEO Don Basile told eWEEK. The 6000 product line brings new levels of performance to the table with full enterprise reliability in a 3U SAN-attached platform, he said.

Violin's design features a hot-swappable platform that provides sustained performance to accelerate all applications, which enables them to be virtualized and deployed in private clouds.

Compared with the company's current 3000 Series, the 6000s have built-in gateways that support Fibre Channel and Ethernet connectivity without needing an external gateway, Basile said. Two versions of the 6000 Series are available; the 6616 uses SLC, and the 6232 uses MLC. SLC is faster but more expensive, and MLC is half the cost of SLC but is slower.

Fulfilling Promise to Replace Disks

"We're fulfilling our promise to replace enterprise disks with memory-based solutions," Basile said. "We're focused on Tier 1 (storage). To be Tier 1, not only do you need performance, but you need very high availability/reliability characteristics.

"You can get way more power and storage capacity in one of our racks [10 boxes] than in a bunch of standard disk-based racks. In fact, we took the most recent EMC Symmetrix Tier 1 disk array solution, announced at VMworld, and in the same use case, compared our 6000 series against it. To do the same amount (of workload) as one rack of our 6000 series, you need 40 racks of Symmetrix [machines]-9,600 disks, based on our own benchmark."

So, Basile contends: "Performance-wise, space, power, density and cost, Violin can save all those things for you in a very big way."

Violin's Tier 1 memory arrays can house more than 160TB in a single rack and provide a whopping 10 million IOPS and 40GB per second performance, Basile said.

"We built the 6000 from the ground up, using our own software and hardware intellectual property, to give CIOs the highest reliability, performance, serviceability, space and power compression, and cost savings demanded in enterprise environments," Basile said.

NAND flash-based arrays naturally are more expensive item-for-item than disk-based systems, but over time, the ROI is much quicker, Basile said.

"Typically, we see 2X-3X lower CAPEX [capital expenditure] and 2X-3X lower OPEX [operational expense] overall," Basile said. "When you're dealing with the biggest 5,000 companies, as we are, they have sophisticated IT organizations, they can do the comparisons. When you get below that level, they don't really have sophisticated IT folks who are willing to do the POCs [proofs of concept] and actual calculations."

Bad Rap on Pricing

The solid-state memory storage sector often gets a bad rap on pricing, Basile said.

"The mid-tier and below market is quite confused right now [about whether to move to pure SSD storage]," he said. "We're finding a bifurcation in the market. We're able to deal with large banks, Internet properties and government buyers very easily. They're the ones who've helped shape our product line over the last two-plus years. That's why we're seeing traction with their platforms, and why we grew to $100 million four years faster than 3PAR, five years faster than Isilon, and two years faster than Data Domain."

Violin has gained a lot of fans in the last couple of years as its customer base grows. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company added a whopping $100 million in equity financing the last year, led by Toshiba, Juniper Networks and other sources.

"We've got about a third of a billion dollars in equity behind the company as we push into the marketplace," Basile said.

The company now has 220 employees and is looking to expand its workforce to 400 to 500 by January 2012, Basile said. "We're in our hyper-growth phase now, in order to scale out and meet the needs of our customers and partners," Basile said.

Tony Perkins' AlwaysOn Networks, which works closely with the venture capital community to examine IT startup companies, selected Violin Memory as its company of the year in 2011. It's in some very good company, no pun intended; previous winners include Google,, Twitter, YouTube, and MySQL.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...