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SanDisk InfiniFlash launches company's all-flash platform

SanDisk launched the InfiniFlash all-flash platform this week. The system is said to deliver flash storage for less than $2 per GB before data reduction.

SanDisk has entered the all-flash storage array market this week by launching its InfiniFlash platform designed for big data workloads that can run into the petabytes.

InfiniFlash contains no off-the-shelf solid-state drives or compute resources. It has 64 SAS-connected 8 TB proprietary NAND cards, also called InfiniFlash. SanDisk said its new form flash factor is designed to be serviceable in the field by sliding in hot-swappable replacement racks, expander boards and fans. The cards are designed with power-fail circuitry to support higher densities. SanDisk said it chose the SAS protocol for reliability and its chipset being able to support 16 channels for scaling next-gen cards to 16 TB.

Each enclosure includes eight ports to connect to external SAS servers, enabling end users and possible OEM partners to integrate the platform with other storage. InfiniFlash nodes are rated by SanDisk for 780,000 IOPS and throughput of 7 Gpbs. The system scales to hundreds of clustered nodes and supports up to 15 PB in a single namespace.

SanDisk said InfiniFlash delivers flash storage at less than $2 per gigabyte without deduplication and compression turned on. Highlighted use cases include big data analytics, media streaming and video surveillance, and content repositories for active archiving.

Target customers include hyperscale data centers and storage vendors looking for a way to extend flash beyond primary storage.

"This is not for the faint of heart," said Gary Lyng, a SanDisk senior director of marketing and strategy. "This is not designed for people with terabytes of storage. We designed InfiniFlash for organizations that need to scale to tens, if not hundreds, of petabytes. We've designed a new flash form factor that provides highly dense capacity, good enough if not great performance, and a cost structure that removes barriers to innovation."

Three faces of InfiniFlash

SanDisk released three versions of InfiniFlash immediately, each with varying use cases. Customer pricing is based on volume, although SanDisk did not disclose specific pricing.

The baseline InfiniFlash IF100 is a hardware-only building block that connects directly to a host system as the storage head. The IF100 system includes RESTful APIs for accessing underlying NAND and optimizing it for specific workloads.

The IF500 includes the IF100 hardware and InfiniFlash OS Ceph scale-out software for using open source Ceph and Swift object stores to access block and file system storage. The IF500 also includes Web-scale snapshots, replication and erasure coding.

The IF700 parlays SanDisk's Ion Accelerator software to accelerate NoSQL databases. SanDisk picked up the Ion technology when it acquired PCIe card vendor Fusion-io in 2014.

Software development kits are available from SanDisk for the IF500 and IF700 that include APIs for accessing InfiniFlash OS directly to enhance applications.

Industry experts have hinted SanDisk was at work on a flash storage system based on technologies it picked up from Fusion-io as well as Schooner Information Technology, which makes database software optimized for flash. Rather than launch its own all-flash array, SanDisk said it parlayed the flash optimization software to build an integrated pluggable system that enables legacy and all-flash array vendors to extend their storage beyond primary application workloads.

Research on InfiniFlash began two years ago, with beta users testing proofs of concept for about six months, Lyng said. He said SanDisk wanted to make a splash in flash storage without jeopardizing relationships with its storage channel partners, which include legacy and all-flash array vendors.

"We did not design InfiniFlash to compete with our OEM partners. We designed it to augment their existing storage portfolio and help them gain capacity by adding a flash platform," Lyng said.

With InfiniFlash in the works, SanDisk in January spun off the NexGen hybrid array platform it acquired from Fusion-io.

An alternative to scale-out HDD object storage

InfiniFlash is designed with SanDisk's rearchitected multilevel cell NAND flash memory chips. Lyng said subsequent versions will support triple-level cell NAND as well to enable users to tier content between different types of flash storage.

Lyng said SanDisk is not marketing InfiniFlash for cold storage.

"It's for storage that may not be written to very much, but needs to be read many, many times," Lyng said.

Eric Burgener, a research director with the storage practice at analyst firm IDC, said InfiniFlash offers an alternative to hard disk drive (HDD)-based scale-out architectures designed primarily for object storage. 

"What they've done is relax the performance so they can get to a lower cost point. InfiniFlash is not nearly as fast as conventional flash, but hyperscalers don't need it to be. And they certainly can benefit from the power savings, the floor space and the better performance than they would get from HDDs," Burgener said.

Depending on its adoption, Burgener said InfiniFlash could trigger a wave of similar flash storage platforms from vendors such as Seagate Technologies and HGST Inc.

"There is a huge opportunity for some kind of medium to slot between HDDs and flash for secondary storage," Burgener said. "InfiniFlash fits squarely in that market and I think other vendors competitors will perk up and take notice."

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