SolidFire supplies scale-out SSD storage for cloud service providers

SolidFire SF3010 node (c) 2011 SolidFire (from their website)
SolidFire SF3010 node (c) 2011 SolidFire (from their website)

I was talking with a local start up called SolidFire the other day with an interesting twist on SSD storage.  They were targeting cloud service providers with a scale-out, cluster based SSD iSCSI storage system.  Apparently a portion of their team had come from Lefthand (now owned by HP) another local storage company and the rest came from Rackspace, a national cloud service provider.

The hardware

Their storage system is a scale-out cluster of storage nodes that can range from 3 to a theoretical maximum of 100 nodes (validated node count ?). Each node comes equipped with 2-2.4GHz, 6-core Intel processors and 10-300GB SSDs for a total of 3TB raw storage per node.  Also they have 8GB of non-volatile DRAM for write buffering and 72GB read cache resident on each node.

The system also uses 2-10GbE links for host to storage IO and inter-cluster communications and support iSCSI LUNs.  There are another 2-1GigE links used for management communications.

SolidFire states that they can sustain 50K IO/sec per node. (This looks conservative from my viewpoint but didn’t state any specific R:W ratio or block size for this performance number.)

The software

They are targeting cloud service providers and as such the management interface was designed from the start as a RESTful API but they also have a web GUI built out of their API.  Cloud service providers will automate whatever they can and having a RESTful API seems like the right choice.

QoS and data reliability

The cluster supports 100K iSCSI LUNs and each LUN can have a QoS SLA associated with it.  According to SolidFire one can specify a minimum/maximum/burst level for IOPS and a maximum or burst level for throughput at a LUN granularity.

With LUN based QoS, one can divide cluster performance into many levels of support for multiple customers of a cloud provider.  Given these unique QoS capabilities it should be relatively easy for cloud providers to support multiple customers on the same storage providing very fine grained multi-tennancy capabilities.

This could potentially lead to system over commitment, but presumably they have some way to ascertain over commitment is near and not allowing this to occur.

Data reliability is supplied through replication across nodes which they call Helix(tm) data protection.  In this way if an SSD or node fails, it’s relatively easy to reconstruct the lost data onto another node’s SSD storage.  Which is probably why the minimum number of nodes per cluster is set at 3.

Storage efficiency

Aside from the QoS capabilities, the other interesting twist from a customer perspective is that they are trying to price an all-SSD storage solution at the $/GB of normal enterprise disk storage. They believe their node with 3TB raw SSD storage supports 12TB of “effective” data storage.

They are able to do this by offering storage efficiency features of enterprise storage using an all SSD configuration. Specifically they provide,

  • Thin provisioned storage – which allows physical storage to be over subscribed and used to support multiple LUNs when space hasn’t completely been written over.
  • Data compression – which searches for underlying redundancy in a chunk of data and compresses it out of the storage.
  • Data deduplication – which searches multiple blocks and multiple LUNs to see what data is duplicated and eliminates duplicative data across blocks and LUNs.
  • Space efficient snapshot and cloning – which allows users to take point-in-time copies which consume little space useful for backups and test-dev requirements.

Tape data compression gets anywhere from 2:1 to 3:1 reduction in storage space for typical data loads. Whether SolidFire’s system can reach these numbers is another question.  However, tape uses hardware compression and the traditional problem with software data compression is that it takes lots of processing power and/or time to perform it well.  As such, SolidFire has configured their node hardware to dedicate a CPU core to each physical disk drive (2-6 core processors for 10 SSDs in a node).

Deduplication savings are somewhat trickier to predict but ultimately depends on the data being stored in a system and the algorithm used to deduplicate it.  For user home directories, typical deduplication levels of 25-40% are readily attainable.  SolidFire stated that their deduplication algorithm is their own patented design and uses a small fixed block approach.

The savings from thin provisioning ultimately depends on how much physical data is actually consumed on a storage LUN but in typical environments can save 10-30% of physical storage by pooling non-written or free storage across all the LUNs configured on a storage system.

Space savings from point-in-time copies like snapshots and clones depends on data change rates and how long it’s been since a copy was made.  But, with space efficient copies and a short period of existence, (used for backups or temporary copies in test-development environments) such copies should take little physical storage.

Whether all of this can create a 4:1 multiplier for raw to effective data storage is another question but they also have a eScanner tool which can estimate savings one can achieve in their data center. Apparently the eScanner can be used by anyone to scan real customer LUNs and it will compute how much SolidFire storage will be required to support the scanned volumes.


There are a few items left on their current road map to be delivered later, namely remote replication or mirroring. But for now this looks to be a pretty complete package of iSCSI storage functionality.

SolidFire is currently signing up customers for Early Access but plan to go GA sometime around the end of the year. No pricing was disclosed at this time.

I was at SNIA’s BoD meeting the other week and stated my belief that SSDs will ultimately lead to the commoditization of storage.  By that I meant that it would be relatively easy to configure enough SSD hardware to create a 100K IO/sec  or 1GB/sec system without having to manage 1000 disk drives.  Lo and behold, SolidFire comes out the next week.  Of course, I said this would happen over the next decade – so I am off by a 9.99 years…