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Startup Liqid looks to make a splash in composable storage

Liqid composable storage infrastructure is based on Liqid Grid's custom PCIe fabric switch and orchestration to provision bare-metal servers from disaggregated devices.

Hardware startup Liqid is set to unveil a PCIe-based fabric switch that fluidly configures bare-metal servers from pools of physical compute, flash storage, graphical processing units and network devices.

Backed by $19.5 million in venture funding, the Lafayette, Colo., vendor said Liqid Composable Infrastructure (Liqid CI) is scheduled for general availability by March. Liqid CI integrates the Liqid Grid PCIe 3.0 switch and Liqid Command Center orchestration software on standard servers.

Liqid -- pronounced "liquid" -- has partnerships with flash memory maker Kingston Technology and Phison Electronics Corp., a Taiwanese maker of NAND flash memory controllers. Both vendors are seed investors.

Liqid CI is designed to scale the provisioning of disaggregated computing devices on bare-metal using Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe).

The Liqid Grid fabric deploys compute, GPUs, network cards and Kingston SSDs on a shared PCIe bus. The programmable storage architecture allows data centers to dynamically compose a computer system on the fly from disaggregated devices. Liqid Command Center configures the individual components on demand as an application needs it.

The idea is to allow an application to consume only the resources it needs. Once the tasks are completed, the device is released back to the global resource pool for other jobs.

"If you need more storage, you don't send somebody with a cart to plug in more storage. You reprogram the fabric to suck in more storage from the interconnected pools," said Sumit Puri, a Liqid co-founder and vice president of marketing.

Liqid and Orange Silicon Valley -- the global telecomm provider's U.S. arm -- last November displayed a prototype device that can provide on-demand GPU performance for high-performance computing.

Camberley Bates, a managing director at Boulder, Colo., company Evaluator Group, said Liqid CI provides the ability to flexibly add or subtract computing devices to boost performance or control costs.

"You're using straightforward x86 CPUs and SSDs. Pull all the pieces together and off you go," Bates said.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is considered the leader in the emerging composable infrastructure market with its Ethernet-based Synergy virtualization hardware platform. Composable infrastructure signals where converged and hyper-converged markets are headed, Bates said. 

"There is too much hardening and not enough flexibility in a converged environment," Bates said. "There are only a few vendors doing composable systems now, but over the long term, we think it has legs."

The Liqid Grid PCIe 3.0 managed switch scales to connect thousands of devices. Physical hardware interconnections can be copper or photonics over MiniHD SAS cabling, with 24 ports and up to 96 PCIe lane. Each port is rated for full duplex bandwidth of 8 gigabits per second.

Puri said Liqid is seeking OEM partners to design Liqid CI rack-scale systems with qualified servers. The earliest to sign on is Inspur, which markets a Liqid CI-based platform to offer graphical processing units (GPUs) as a service to data centers running large AI application farms.

Customers also can purchase a developer's kit directly from Liqid that comes as a 6U rack with two nodes, four 6.4 TB SSDs, two network interface cards and two GPU cards for about $30,000.

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