Come and Compare Flash Vendors and Their Wares

The best thing about the VMworld Conference is that you can see so much tech in one place. In the past decade, attendees have come to VMworld to see the best new technologies that would later transform their data centers. This year, attendees can peruse the expo and visit the flash storage vendors listed below to see the high-performance tech that is turning the storage industry on it’s ear. Of course, you will need your bullshit detectors, but there is a good chance you will be able to put together a big picture view of the new, transformed storage industry. I recommend seeing:

1) Pure Storage, booth #1621. Pure is recognized by many as the de-facto industry leader in SAN all-flash arrays, although EMC disputes the claim. If you followed the previous link, you might also enjoy Robin Harris’ (aka: StorageMojo) recent blog where he opines that in a few years, people won’t talk about flash arrays any more because all storage arrays will be flash-powered. Regardless, Pure has been the key industry disruptor in the rise of enterprise flash technology and it is seems unlikely that they will ever stop thinking of themselves as a flash storage company.

2) Nimble Storage, booth #1705. Nimble is recognized for being the de-facto leader in the SAN hybrid array market (hybrid arrays combine both flash and disk drives in an array.) Nimble contends their hybrid arrays can perform as well as all-flash arrays (which is undoubtedly true for the workloads of their satisfied customers) at a lower cost because disk drives tend to cost less than flash SSDs.

3) Tegile, booth #1037. Tegile (the company I work for) entered the market after both Pure and Nimble had claimed their respective leadership positions in the SAN all-flash and hybrid markets. Tegile, however, is neither all-flash or hybrid because it offers both types of products on a common platform. It is also a multi-protocol array, supporting both SAN and NAS as well as iSCSI and FC connectivity. Tegile asserts that providing a broader price/performance range and supporting all common storage protocols allows it to better fit into their customer’s dynamic environments.

4) Tintri, booth #921. Tintri is a NAS/NFS hybrid array company with roots in VM storage integration. Earlier this year, VMware released a feature called virtual volumes, or VVols to it’s vSphere 6.0 product, which some believe threatens Tintri by leveling the playing field for VM storage integration. Tintri defends it’s position saying it still has management advantages for storing data for virtual servers.

5) NetApp, booth #1005. NetApp is a long-established storage industry leader that some believe came to market late with flash-based arrays. Perhaps making up for the time it took them to introduce flash-based arrays, they now have multiple offerings within different product lines.

6) EMC, booth #1405. EMC has been the recognized leader of the enterprise storage industry for many years. Although they introduced flash SSDs in their VMAX storage systems relatively early, Pure beat them to market with an all-flash array. EMC responded relatively quickly with their XtremeIO product, which had some significant shortcomings early in it’s life, which appear to be behind them now.

7) SolidFire, booth #929. SolidFire is known as having the most technologically advanced all-flash storage systems that provide quality of service guarantees. Their unique approach is directed at customers with a service-provider mentality who value and will pay for deterministic performance for their workloads. This differs considerably from the “abundant IOPs” approach used by most other flash storage vendors.

8) Kaminario, booth #705. Kaminario sells flash arrays designed to produce a high number of IOPs for transaction processing systems, as indicated by their position near the top of the SPC-1 benchmark rankings. Like many of the other flash startups, Kaminario puts it’s effort into developing software that runs on industry standard components.

HP, HDS and IBM all developed flash solutions using existing non-flash products and architectures which allowed them to leverage existing hardware and management software. It will be interesting to see if any of these legacy architectures continue to be used as flash array technology evolves.

9) HP 3-PAR, booth #1205. HP 3PAR’s StoreServ flash arrays are based on their massively-parallel disk-drive architecture, but with flash SSDs instead of spinning disks. This architecture lends itself well to mixed workload environments, but tends to have slightly higher latencies for single applications and benchmarks (like SPC).

10) HDS, booth #905. HDS also modified their existing NAS Hitachi Unified Storage (HUS) and SAN Virtual
Storage Platform (VSP) products to use storage cards that they refer to as Hitachi Accelerated Flash (HAF). They talk about this design as having a flash array inside another (presumably non-flash) array. This actually makes a certain amount of sense if you understand how their VSP controllers work.

11) IBM, booth #1645.IBM came late to the flash array business by acquiring Texas Memory Systems in 2012 and has been investing heavily in the business ever since. They leverage their legacy SAN Volume Controller (SVC) in front of flash storage in their FlashSystem products to achieve consistent management with their install base of SVC systems.