Commodity hardware loses again …

IMG_4528It seemed only a a couple of years back that everyone was touting how hardware engineering no longer mattered anymore.

What with Intel and others playing out Moore’s law, why invest in hardware engineering when the real smarts were all in software?

We said then that hardware engineered solutions still had a significant place to play but few believed me (see my posts:  Commodity hardware always loses and Commodity hardware debate heats up ).

Well hardware’s back, …

A few examples;

  1. EMC DSSD – at EMCWorld2015 a couple of weeks back, EMC demoed a new rack-scale flash storage system that was targeted at extremely high IOPS and very low latency. DSSD is a classic study on how proprietary hardware could enable new levels of performance. The solution connected to servers over a PCIe switched network, which didn’t really exist before and used hardware engineered, Flash Modules which were extremely dense, extremely fast and extremely reliable. (See my EMCWorld post on DSSD and our Greybeards on Storage (GBoS) podcast with Chad Sakac for more info on DSSD)
  2. Diablo Memory Channel Storage (MCS) /SanDisk UltraDIMMs – Diablo’s MCS is coming out in SanDisk’s UltraDIMM NAND storage that plugs into DRAM slots and provides a memory paged access to NAND storage. The key is that the hardware logic provides overheads that are ~50 μsecs to access NAND storage. (We’ve wrote  about MCS and UltraDIMMs here).
  3. Hitachi VSP G1000 storage and their Hitachi Accelerated Flash (HAF) – recent SPC-1 results showed that a G1000 outfitted with HAF modules could generate over 2M IOPS and had very low latency (220 μsecs).  (See our announcement summary on the Hitachi G1000 here).

Diablo ran into some legal problems but that’s all behind them now, so the way forward is clear of any extraneous hurdles.

There are other examples of proprietary hardware engineering from IBM FlashSystems,  networking companies, PCIe flash vendors and others but these will suffice to make my point.

My point is if you want to gain orders of magnitude of better performance, you need to seriously consider engaging in some proprietary hardware engineering. Proprietary hardware may take longer than software-only solutions (although that’s somewhat of a function of the resources you throw at), but the performance gains are sometimes unobtainable any other way.

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Chad made an interesting point on our GBoS podcast, hardware innovation is somewhat cyclical. For a period of time, commodity hardware is much better than any storage solution really needs, so innovation swings to the software arena. But over time, software functionality comes up to speed and maxes out the hardware that’s available and then you need more hardware innovation to take performance to the next level. Then the cycle swings back to hardware engineering. And the cycle will swing back and forth again a lot more times before storage is ever through as an IT technology.

Today when it seems that there’s a new software defined storage solution coming out every month we seem very close to peak software innovation with little left for performance gains, but there’s still plenty left if we open our eyes to consider proprietary hardware.

Welcome to the start of the next hardware innovation cycle – take that commodity hardware.

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