Fusion-io's Carson: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication"



What is there in common between the team which produced clash of the Titans, a stock exchange trading company performing high speed electronic trading and Facebook? The answer is that they are all clients of Fusion-io, a 250 employee company which was created 4 years ago, the chief scientist of which is no one else than Steve Wozniak. "Wosniak saw the technology and it called out to him" Neil Carson said and "we brought him to our board", he is a "very smart guy and it's good to have him onboard", he added.

Fusion-io designs SSD cards for storage to be included in servers in order to improve efficiency, data protection, but also server space and power consumption. On June 1, 2010 I was invited with a selection of French journalists to visit that company and we were welcomed by Neil Carson, CTO for that company who gave us a presentation of his iodrives, a new revolutionary SSD (Solid State Drive) technology for servers and also graphic sessions.

Carson expressed his vision and sums it up in a few words: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" he says, in that it is software that makes all this work. There are no embedded processors in the card, no embedded processors, no additional batteries on the card and the flash memory is so fast that supercapaciters or batteries are not required. It's a much simpler support model as well, according to Carson, MTBF (mean time between failures) is also a lot better: On-card RAID was eliminated, hence a MTBF over 2 million hours because of the simplicity feature called "flashback": if any individual chip goes, it can be reconstructed with no performance impact, and only 1/30th of the capacity impact.

The coupling of that kind of storage device with high speed networks is also a possibility although no more details were provided by Neil Carson. This could lead to quite a few interesting developments for network operators and network integrators in the near future, with possible impact on long distance storage and data access.

Here is a transcript of that presentation with some facts and figures delivered by Fusion-io:


Saving on storage

  • Saving on disc space implies saving money and also on software, servers and finally they save money on cooling. Iodrives use 97kwh/yr compare to 133,000 for a normal disc drive. It's pertinent when people aren't requiring that much performance. Myspace benefitted from this solution. It's going to take years before something else than flash takes over. This is the prevalent technology at the moment.
  • the main competitive advantage is performance in terms of access times. All the latency is guided by the latency of the flash itself.
  • what is the difference between traditional SSD's and IOdrives? there a no raid controller or SSD chips and therefore latency is kept to a minimum. The Raid controller is emulator directly on the card.
  • The result of this approach is that when you look at the benchmark is that it's twice as fast as storage i/o, but the implication on application performance is that application io is 50 times faster. (benchmark source: tom's hardware). 50 times faster is the final message.
  • what is the impact of this improvement:

- one leads less threads open at the same time
- less open files & sockets
- less web requests
- less CPU cache
- etc..

  • Answers.com business case o    performed 9 times more database queries per second

- 8 times faster disaster recovery back up time
- 75% smaller server footprint
- 75% less power required

  • Cloudmark business case

- 5 times faster query response and replication

  • Benchmarks have shown a lot more efficiency compared to standard installations
  • "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication"

- Software is what makes all this works
- no embedded processors, no additional batteries on the card
- the flash memory is so fast that supercapiciters or batteries are not required
- it's a much simpler support model as well
- MTBF is also a lot better: On-card RAID was eliminated, hence MTBF over 2 million hours because of the simplivity
- feature called "flashback": if any indivisual chip goes, it can be reconstructed with no performance impact, only 1/30th of the capacity impact.
- Guarding against cosmic particles: it sometimes happens.
- Optional PCI bus protection standards established, it's a guarantee for data protection, data is protected at all levels according to Neil Carson.

  • Design characteristics:

- 10,000 times lower bit errors
- no data corruption errors, on any io drive with that kind of technology as is happening on other technologies, and the wear-out is totally predictable
- some chips on the card might die but the rest will live on. There is no real way to predict but it typically outlives the server which have a 3-4 year life-span.
- It's upgradable, the card can be upgraded, improved, augmented etc. and the server doesn't even have to be shut down, which is not even possible to do with a hard drive.

  • other facts and figures

- Fedex: 30 to 1 box reduction for their messaging system
- Department of defense takes Nastran from 3 days to 6 hours
- Stock exchange doubles the performance of their trading systems
- Oracle shows a 35x performance increase on some of their servers
- the card is also used for workstations (a lower cost version of the iodrive) for designing 3D graphics

  • Q&A

o will there be other vendors with the same technology?
- Fusion-io is good at building the software that you can't find easily elsewhere, and the company has a several years advantage on its competitors plus the fact that it has been doing this for the past 3-4years.
- the difficult thing for vendors too is the route to market. Some do marketing but they can't really deliver. and they haven't been able to solve the software issue

o Obstacles?
- we are selling more than we can make, there are no obstacles
- Dell, IBM and HP are OEM's of Fusion-io

o improving usage of virtualization
- this technology could actually lead to more demand for virtualization due to the fact that many clients are reluctant to use virtualization for performance reasons. This could also lead to less power consumption in the data center.

o how do you see the future of storage?
- "we think in terms of memory used as a disk. there is no reason to restrict this technology behind servers. This is not going to be the end of fiber channel in the foreseeable future though".
- a lot of the work done in supercomputing tends to trickle down into
- we are looking into a bunch of innovations such as looking to use this technology for applications and improving performance.
- whatever bottlenecks exist are due to application design and how they were designed to make use of memory.

o issues with the demand for flash?
- Samsung was an investor in fusion-io but we are looking at other vendors too.
- there's other technologies such as face-change memories, even though it's going to take a long time, it's not clear whether you'll need more and more density.

o Vertical niches?
- financials, web 2.0, space ... but we don't have a breakdown by sector
- all verticals are driven by data intensive applications, so this could apply to any sector

o Doubts
- some of the journalists such as Yann Serra from 01Net actually doubts that flash memory can be improved indefinitely.

o Geographical differences?
- we have customers in Europe, Japan, America, probably most of the regions in the world
- we are in the process of growing our sales force but there's only so much we can do to expand the market. Yet most of the new hires are in sales and this will change the landscape

Yann Gourvennec

I specialize in information systems, HighTech marketing and Web marketing. I am author and contributor to numerous books and the CEO of Visionary Marketing. As such, I contribute regularly on this blog for Orange Business Services account on cloud computing and cloud storage topics.