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Marvell to release DRAM, SSD-based accelerator card

Lucas Mearian, Computerworld | April 4, 2011
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Solid-state drive chip maker Marvell Technology today announced that later this year it will release an accelerator card designed to deliver a tenfold increase in storage network throughput by caching and sorting data at the server before sending it to back-end arrays.

"The biggest issue holding back IT from running mission critical applications as virtual machines is the lack of I/O. Putting one of these cards in the server will suddenly add tons of I/O. That would, in turn, make the applications run faster," Taneja said. "Many mission critical applications are latency sensitive. They will gain the most from this card. Bringing mission critical apps under VMware is one of VMware's top objectives for 2011. This will help big time."

Taneja said the new accelerator card will also be attractive for use in private and public cloud infrastructures, which are built on virtualized environments, but he pointed out that because the card resides in a server, it won't help with the I/O performance of other servers in a data center that don't have a DragonFly, where adding SSDs to a storage array can help the performance of all application servers connected to that box.

"Many vendors are trying to solve the I/O problem but in different ways. Examples are Avere, Pliant, Fusion IO, Violin, and so on. But those are all at the storage level. Marvell is doing it at the server level and that separates them from the crowd," he said. "I like what I see."

More and more often, user companies are adding SSDs to SAN and NAS arrays as a Tier Zero layer of storage, or a layer above high-performance hard drives, that offers vastly better I/O than standard hard drives. Abhijeet Gole, Marvell's senior director of engineering, pointed out that adding SSDs to a storage array helps improve read performance, but it typically causes write performance to deteriorate quickly to the point where it's no better than that of a hard drive.

Gole was referring to the fact that NAND flash memory in SSDs requires that every time a new data write comes in from a host system, an old block of data on the memory must be marked for deletion -- a process known as the erase-write cycle. When all blocks have been written to, firmware in the controller then sets about deleting data in stale blocks -- a process known as garbage collection. Garbage collection can severely hamper the performance of SSDs over time, and flash drives can only sustain so many erase-write cycles -- typically 10,000 for consumer-class drives and 100,000 for enterprise-class drives.

Gole also pointed out that, unlike storage acceleration appliances that use SSDs and in some cases DRAM as a cache in front of storage arrays, the DragonFly VSA scales linearly because as more cards are added to servers, the processing and storage capacity increases.


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