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Infinidat storage plans NVMe-oF driver in 2020

Infinidat CTO Brian Carmody says NVMe protocol is a 'perfect match' for hybrid InfiniBox disk arrays. Customers are beta testing Infinidat NVMe drivers, starting with RoCE 4.

Infinidat's disk-based InfiniBox storage arrays seem like an anomaly in the era of lightning fast enterprise flash. Although technically a hybrid system, the Infinidat storage uses only a small percentage of flash to augment block and file access. Infinidat InfiniBox arrays capture writes on hard disk drives and serve reads from dynamic RAM, which is faster than flash. The onboard flash accelerates access to cold data stored on nearline SAS disk. Infinidat is also preparing to support NVMe over Fabrics in its arrays through a software upgrade.

Moshe Yanai launched Infinidat in 2011. The company started selling products in 2013. Yanai led the development of Symmetrix enterprise arrays while at EMC (now Dell EMC), and his other storage ventures included XIV and backup deduplication pioneer Diligent Technologies. IBM acquired XIV and Diligent.

Hyperscale data centers and large managed services providers are key target markets for Infinidat storage.

We spoke with Infinidat CTO Brian Carmody about the vendor's NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) timeline, how it competes with large all-flash vendors and why InfiniBox resembles Facebook storage architecture.

How does Infinidat compete with larger vendors selling all-flash storage?

Brian Carmody, Infinidat CTOBrian Carmody

Brian Carmody: We're not like most enterprise storage vendors, whose systems scale to at most hundreds of terabytes. Infinidat is exclusively focused on petabyte-scale primary storage customers. Our average system configuration is around 2 petabytes. Our average customer has 7 petabytes of Infinidat storage. Everybody who does big storage stores data on disk.

Our hardware is very similar to Facebook's Bryce Canyon architecture. We have eight JBOD [just a bunch of disks] chassis, with a RAM and flash cache sitting in front. My point is that [users] doing big petabyte-scale primary storage have systems that look a lot like InfiniBox arrays.

What impact will NVMe flash have on InfiniBox?

NVMe exposes the need for downstream optimizations by optimizing bottlenecks you didn't know existed. It's kind of like when you upgrade the engine on your muscle car and find out that your transmission is now the bottleneck.
Brian CarmodyCTO, Infinidat

Carmody: It's central to our strategy and we're expecting broad adoption. You couldn't design a front-end protocol that's a better match for InfiniBox. We serve most of our IO out of DRAM. So, the majority of our IOs -- of reads, at least -- has latency in single-digit microseconds, as opposed to our NAND flash reads with a hard floor of a hundred microseconds.

NVMe exposes the need for downstream optimizations by optimizing bottlenecks you didn't know existed. It's kind of like when you upgrade the engine on your muscle car and find out that your transmission is now the bottleneck. For our customers, the net effect will be a huge increase in performance when they turn on NVMe over Fabrics, because our latency floor is so much lower.

When do you plan to make NVMe upgrades generally available?

Carmody: We have NVMe over Fabrics [drivers] in beta preview with a couple of customers now. We plan to release it next year as a free software upgrade. Right now, our beta is focused on RDMA over Converged Ethernet. Fibre Channel support is coming soon. We will support both types of networks when the product is generally available.

Did Infinidat storage customers request NVMe?

Carmody: No, it mostly came out of our research group. We made a calculated bet based on our researchers saying how NVMe technology is a perfect match with our architecture. Pure Storage was the first competitor we started to hear talking about NVMe over Fabrics, and [that helped prompt] us decide to go all-in on NVMe this year.

How many active customers does Infinidat have?

Carmody: It's in the thousands, but not the tens of thousands. Part of the reason why Infinidat is a profitable stand-alone company is our exclusive focus on large deals. We sell to big customers that need to buy petabytes of storage in single transactions. If you listen to the earnings calls of [large] storage vendors, they're now all saying the same thing. They're trying to pivot and focus on larger enterprise deals. They're trying to make their businesses look more like Infinidat.

What factors will influence Infinidat's storage development going forward? Are there any salient trends emerging?

Carmody: We've seen this thing called digital transformation taking root. Businesses in every industry -- trucking companies, manufacturers, even farming -- now have multi-petabyte storage as their new normal. The market grew [to need] our type of capacity, but capacity itself isn't interesting. You could buy a petabyte-scale object system for less than you can an InfiniBox. What excites us is the ability to deliver petabyte-scale computing with microsecond latency. Think of Oracle databases, MySQL workloads for Kubernetes, VMware VDI ... the most performance-hungry workloads in a data center.

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