EMC VFCache/Lightning Strikes

As industry 'secrets' go, you'd have to say that EMC's 'Lightning' news today was no big surprise. But, as with its meteorological namesake, knowing there'll be lightning in a storm isn't half as important as determining the location and impact of the strike. It's also a bit of a shame that the name 'Lightning' doesn't apply officially to the new product, since 'VFCache' - as it's now formally known - doesn't allow for many great prose and pun word-plays. I so much wanted lightning from 'clouds'...'storms' on the storage horizon....EMC 'strikes' at the competition. The thesaurus can rest. Let's look at the impact of this new product announcement.

For starters, let's cover the basics very briefly. VFCache is server-based flash cache (at least mostly and usually it is - users also have the option of splitting the card to use some as cache and some as persistent storage). It integrates with EMC's 'FAST' (Fully Automated Storage Tiering) and thereby extends FAST up into the server. The impact for users is either more transactions and/or less wait time, depending on what floats your storage and application boats. As such, it is aimed squarely at databases, OLTP, e-mail, analytics and the like...places that need storage 'ooomph,' are mostly read activity, and where a relatively small percentage of the data drives a very large percentage of the I/O activity. This is simply because the PCIe based flash used in VFCache remains (like all flash) relatively expensive and so it needs to be used -

  • For prime caching opportunities - to spread the cost impact and have it make better IT-economic-sense.
  • In mission-critical applications - to make spending even the ameliorated-$$ worthwhile in a business-economic-sense).

That's it in a nutshell - like all good things it's pretty easy to 'get' the concept.

So, what about the impact? I suspect many competitors will miss the point and talk functional intricacies rather than impact....specsmanship rather than market importance. Indeed it is true that EMC is not the first to use server-based flash/cache. In fact, EMC often isn't first into things for the enterprise market, although - somewhat ironically given our topic here - it was EMC that kicked off the current 'solid-state era' when it introduced Enterprise Flash Drives in early 2008! But competitive rebukes of the 'yes but we were first/faster/bigger/wash whiter' variety, are frankly missing the point. I was reminded of a great quote I saw when reading on a plane last week: "Facts and truth really don't have much to do with each other" (William Faulkner, quoted in the Associated Press). Why do I say that here? Well the facts may well be - or might not, but that's not the point here - that someone else can go faster in some manner, or has some better management in some way. But the truth is that this is EMC making the introduction - this is a market leader that has shipped over 24 PB of flash to date with way over an Exabyte of storage under the management of FAST. VFCache being the absolute best in any one area doesn't matter (and for all I know EMC is best in all of the technical aspects...). What matters is that it is more than good enough for most users and applications. It offers tremendous throughput and response time improvements, and does so within a management construct that myriad users already employ, and furthermore it has the extensive underlying security (HS, data protection, shareability) that users expect from EMC.

So, yes, this is a significant product announcement...but is far more of a market announcment. EMC is giving its formal blessing to server-based flash, and indeed to flash throughout the storage ecosystem. The next iteration that EMC has indicated having sometime next quarter is 'Thunder,' a network flash appliance. Combined, these products show a clear direction to users, and maybe offer some solace and opportunity to all the start-ups entering the solid-state storage market. Clearly it ain't all about spinning rust any more....and if you didn't buy into that before today, maybe now it is time to believe.

Bottom line? This particular lightning is way more than flashy - it packs a market punch.

You can read Mark's blog entries at The Business of Storage.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure