Scratch file use in HPC @ORNL, a statistical analysis

Attended SC17 (Supercomputing Conference) this past week and I received a copy of the accompanying research proceedings. There are a number of interesting papers in the research and I came across one, Scientific User Behavior and Data Sharing Trends in a Peta Scale File System by Seung-Hwan Lim, et al from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the use of files at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF) which was very interesting.

The paper statistically describes the use of a Scratch files in a multi PB file system (Lustre) at OLCF from January 2015 to August 2016. The OLCF supports over 32PB of storage, has a peak aggregate of over 1TB/s and Spider II (current Lustre file system) consists of 288 Lustre Object Storage Servers, all interconnected and connected to all the supercomputing cluster of  servers via an InfiniBand network. Spider II supports all scratch storage requirements for active/queued jobs for the Titan (#4 in Top 500 [super computer clusters worldwide] list) and other clusters at ORNL.

ORNL uses an HPSS (High Performance Storage System) archive for permanent storage but uses the Spider II file system for all scratch files generated and used during supercomputing applications.  ORNL is expecting Spider III (2018-2023) to host 10 billion files.

Scratch files are purged from Spider II after 90 days of no access.The paper is based on metadata analysis captured during scratch purging process for 500 days of access.

The paper displays a number of statistics and metrics on the use of Spider II:

  • Less than 3% of projects have a directory depth >15, the maximum directory depth was recorded at 432, with most projects having a shallow (<10) directory depth.
  • A project typically has 10X the files that a specific researcher has and a median file count/researcher is 2000 files with a median project having 20,000 files.
  • Storage system performance is actively managed by many projects. For instance, 20 out of 35 science domains manually managed their Lustre cluster configuration to improve throughput.
  • File count continues to grow and reached a peak of 1B files during the time being analyzed.
  • On average only 3% of files were accessed readonly, 10% of files updated (read-write) and 76% of files were untouched during a week period. However, median and maximum file age was 138 and 214 days respectively, which means that these scratch files can continue to be accessed over the course of 200+ days.

There was more information in the paper but one item missing is statistics on scratch file size distribution a concern.

Nonetheless, in paints an interesting picture of scratch file use in HPC application/supercluster environments today.


Disk rulz, at least for now

Last week WDC announced their next generation technology for hard drives, MAMR or Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording. This is in contrast to HAMR, Heat (laser) Assisted Magnetic Recording. Both techniques add energy so that data can be written as smaller bits on a track.

Disk density drivers

Current hard drive technology uses PMR or Perpendicular Magnetic Recording with or without SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) and TDMR (Two Dimensional Magnetic Recording), both of which we have discussed before in prior posts.

The problem with PMR-SMR-TDMR is that the max achievable disk density is starting to flat line and approaching the “WriteAbility limit” of the head-media combination.

That is even with TDMR, SMR and PMR heads, the highest density that can be achieved is ~1.1Tb/ The Writeability limit for the current PMR head-media technology is ~1.4Tb/ As a result most disk density increases over the past years has been accomplished by adding platters-heads to hard drives.

MAMR and HAMR both seem able to get disk drives to >4.0Tb/ densities by adding energy to the magnetic recording process, which allows the drive to record more data in the same (grain) area.

There are two factors which drive disk drive density (Tb/ Bits per inch (BPI) and Tracks per inch (TPI). Both SMR and TDMR were techniques to add more TPI.

I believe MAMR and HAMR increase BPI beyond whats available today by writing data on smaller magnetic grain sizes (pitch in chart) and thus more bits in the same area. At 7nm grain sizes or below PMR becomes unstable, but HAMR and MAMR can record on grain sizes of 4.5nm which would equate to >4.5Tb/

HAMR hurdles

It turns out that HAMR as it uses heat to add energy, heats the media drives to much higher temperatures than what’s normal for a disk drive, something like 400C-700C.  Normal operating temperatures for disk drives is  ~50C.  HAMR heat levels will play havoc with drive reliability. The view from WDC is that HAMR has 100X worse reliability than MAMR.

In order to generate that much heat, HAMR needs a laser to expose the area to be written. Of course the laser has to be in the head to be effective. Having to add a laser and optics will increase the cost of the head, increase the steps to manufacture the head, and require new suppliers/sourcing organizations to supply the componentry.

HAMR also requires a different media substrate. Unclear why, but HAMR seems to require a glass substrate, the magnetic media (many layers) is  deposited ontop of the glass substrate. This requires a new media manufacturing line, probably new suppliers and getting glass to disk drive (flatness-bumpiness, rotational integrity, vibrational integrity) specifications will take time.

Probably more than a half dozen more issues with having laser light inside a hard disk drive but suffice it to say that HAMR was going to be a very difficult transition to perform right and continue to provide today’s drive reliability levels.

MAMR merits

MAMR uses microwaves to add energy to the spot being recorded. The microwaves are generated by a Spin Torque Oscilator, (STO), which is a solid state device, compatible with CMOS fabrication techniques. This means that the MAMR head assembly (PMR & STO) can be fabricated on current head lines and within current head mechanisms.

MAMR doesn’t add heat to the recording area, it uses microwaves to add energy. As such, there’s no temperature change in MAMR recording which means the reliability of MAMR disk drives should be about the same as todays disk drives.

MAMR uses todays aluminum substrates. So, current media manufacturing lines and suppliers can be used and media specifications shouldn’t have to change much (?) to support MAMR.

MAMR has just about the same max recording density as HAMR, so there’s no other benefit to going to HAMR, if MAMR works as expected.

WDC’s technology timeline

WDC says they will have sample MAMR drives out next year and production drives out in 2019. They also predict an enterprise 40TB MAMR drive by 2025. They have high confidence in this schedule because MAMR’s compatabilitiy with  current drive media and head manufacturing processes.

WDC discussed their IP position on HAMR and MAMR. They have 400+ issued HAMR patents with another 100+ pending and 75 issued MAMR patents with 46 more pending. Quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, but their current IP position on both MAMR and HAMR looks solid.

WDC believes that by 2020, ~90% of enterprise data will be stored on hard drives. However, this is predicated on achieving a continuing, 10X cost differential between disk drives and (QLC 3D) flash.

What comes after MAMR is subject of much speculation. I’ve written on one alternative which uses liquid Nitrogen temperatures with molecular magnets, I called CAMR (cold assisted magnetic recording) but it’s way to early to tell.

And we have yet to hear from the other big disk drive leader, Seagate. It will be interesting to hear whether they follow WDC’s lead to MAMR, stick with HAMR, or go off in a different direction.



Photo Credit(s): WDC presentation

Research reveals ~liquid nitrogen temperature molecular magnets with 100X denser storage

Must be on a materials science binge these days. I read another article this week in on “Major leap towards data storage at the molecular level” reporting on a Nature article “Molecular magnetic hysteresis at 60K“, where researchers from University of Manchester, led by Dr David Mills and Dr Nicholas Chilton from the School of Chemistry, have come up with a new material that provides molecular level magnetics at almost liquid nitrogen temperatures.

Previously, molecular magnets only operated at from 4 to 14K (degrees Kelvin) from research done over the last 25 years or so, but this new  research shows similar effects operating at ~60K or close to liquid nitrogen temperatures. Nitrogen freezes at 63K and boils at ~77K, and I would guess, is liquid somewhere between those temperatures.

What new material

The new material, “hexa-tert-butyldysprosocenium complex—[Dy(Cpttt)2][B(C6F5)4], with Cpttt = {C5H2tBu3-1,2,4} and tBu = C(CH3)3“, dysprosocenium for short was designed (?) by the researchers at Manchester and was shown to exhibit magnetism at the molecular level at 60K.

The storage effect is hysteresis, which is a materials ability to remember the last (magnetic/electrical/?) field it was exposed to and the magnetic field is measured in oersteds.

The researchers claim the new material provides magnetic hysteresis at a sweep level of 22 oersteds. Not sure what “sweep level of 22 oersteds” means but I assume a molecule of the material is magnetized with a field strength of 22 oersteds and retains this magnetic field over time.

Reports of disk’s death, have been greatly exaggerated

While there seems to be no end in sight for the densities of flash storage these days with 3D NAND (see my 3D NAND, how high can it go post or listen to our GBoS FMS2017 wrap-up with Jim Handy podcast), the disk industry lives on.

Disk industry researchers have been investigating HAMR, ([laser] heat assisted magnetic recording, see my Disk density hits new record … post) for some time now to increase disk storage density. But to my knowledge HAMR has not come out in any generally available disk device on the market yet. HAMR was supposed to provide the next big increase in disk storage densities.

Maybe they should be looking at CAMMR, or cold assisted magnetic molecular recording (heard it here, 1st).

According to Dr Chilton using the new material at 60K in a disk device would increase capacity by 100X. Western Digital just announced a 20TB MyBook Duo disk system for desktop storage and backup. With this new material, at 100X current densities, we could have 2PB Mybook Duo storage system on your desktop.

That should keep my ever increasing video-photo-music library in fine shape and everything else backed up for a little while longer.


Photo Credit(s): Molecular magnetic hysteresis at 60K, Nature article


New chip architecture with CPU, storage & sensors in one package

Read an article the other day in MIT news, (3D chip combines computing and data storage) about a new 3D chip out of Stanford and MIT research, which includes CPU, RRAM (resistive RAM) storage class memories and sensors in one single package. Such a chip architecture vastly minimizes the off chip bottleneck to access storage and sensors.

Chip componentry

The chip’s sensors are based on carbon nanotubes. Aside from a layer of silicon at the bottom, all the rest of transistors used in the chip are also based off of carbon nanotube FET (field effect transistors).

The RRAM storage class memory is a based on a dielectric material which uses electrical resistance to store non-volatile data.

The bottom layer is a silicon based CPU. On top of the silicon is a carbon nanotube layer. Next comes the RRAM and the top layer is more carbon nanotubes making up the sensor array.

Architectural benefits

One obvious benefit is having data storage directly accessible to the CPU is that there’s no longer a need to go off chip to access data. The 2nd major advantage to the chip architecture is that the sensor array can write directly to RRAM storage, so there’s no off chip delay to provide sensor readout and storage.

Another advantage to using carbon nanotube FET’s is that they can be an order of magnitude more energy efficient than silicon transistors. Moreover, RRAM has the potential to be much denser than DRAM.

Finally, another major advantage is that this can all be built in one 3D chip because carbon nanotube and RRAM fabrication can be done at relatively cooler temperatures (~200C) vs. silicon fabrication which requires relatively high temperatures (1000C). Silicon cannot be readily fabricated in multiple layers because of the high temperatures required which will harm lower layers. But you could fabricate the lowest layer in silicon and then the rest as either carbon nanotube FETs or RRAM without harming the silicon layer.

Transistor/RRAM counts

The chip as fabricated has a million RRAM cells (bits?) and 2 million nanotube FETs. In contrast, in 2014, Intel’s 15-core Xeon Ivy Bridge EX had 4.3B transistors and current DRAM chips offer 64Gb. So there’s a ways to go before carbon nanotube and RRAM densities can get to a level available from silicon today.

However, as they have a bottom layer of silicon they can have all the CPU complexity of an Intel processor and still build RRAM and carbon nanotubes FETs on top of that. Which makes this chip architecture compatible with current CMOS fabrication techniques and a very interesting addition to current CPU architectures.


Unclear to me why they stopped at 4 layers (1-silicon FET, 1 carbon nanotubes FET, 1 RRAM and 1 carbon nanotubes FET [sensor array]). If they can do 4 why not do 5 or more. That way they could pack in even more RRAM storage and perhaps more sensor layers.

Also, not sure what the bottom most layer of carbon nanotubes is doing. If I had to hazard a guess, it’s being used for RRAM control logic. But I could be wrong.

I could see how these chips could be used for very specialized sensor applications, with a limited need for data storage. The researchers claim many types of sensors can be created using carbon nanotubes. If that’s the case, maybe we might see these sorts of chips showing up all over the place.


Photo Credit(s): Three dimensional integration of nanotechnologies for computing and data storage on a single chip, Nature magazine. 

Axellio, next gen, IO intensive server for RT analytics by X-IO Technologies

We were at X-IO Technologies last week for SFD13 in Colorado Springs talking with the team and they showed us their new IO and storage intensive server, the Axellio. They want to sell Axellio to customers that need extreme IOPS, very high bandwidth, and large storage requirements. Videos of X-IO’s sessions at SFD13 are available here.

The hardware

Axellio comes in 2U appliance with two server nodes. Each server supports  2 sockets of Intel E5-26xx v4 CPUs (4 sockets total) supporting from 16 to 88 cores. Each server node can be configured with up to 1TB of DRAM or it also supports NVDIMMs.

There are two key differentiators to Axellio:

  1. The FabricExpress™, a PCIe based interconnect which allows both server nodes to access dual-ported,  2.5″ NVMe SSDs; and
  2. Dense drive trays, the Axellio supports up to 72 (6 trays with 12 drives each) 2.5″ NVMe SSDs offering up to 460TB of raw NVMe flash using 6.4TB NVMe SSDs. Higher capacity NVMe SSDS available soon will increase Axellio capacity to 1PB of raw NVMe flash.

They also probably spent a lot of time on packaging, cooling and power in order to make Axellio a reliable solution for edge computing. We asked if it was NEBs compliant and they told us not yet but they are working on it.

Axellio can also be configured to replace 2 drive trays with 2 processor offload modules such as 2x Intel Phi CPU extensions for parallel compute, 2X Nvidia K2 GPU modules for high end video or VDI processing or 2X Nvidia P100 Tesla modules for machine learning processing. Probably anything that fits into Axellio’s power, cooling and PCIe bus lane limitations would also probably work here.

At the frontend of the appliance there are 1x16PCIe lanes of server retained for networking that can support off the shelf NICs/HCAs/HBAs with HHHL or FHHL cards for Ethernet, Infiniband or FC access to the Axellio. This provides up to 2x100GbE per server node of network access.

Performance of Axellio

With Axellio using all NVMe SSDs, we expect high IO performance. Further, they are measuring IO performance from internal to the CPUs on the Axellio server nodes. X-IO says the Axellio can hit >12Million IO/sec with at 35µsec latencies with 72 NVMe SSDs.

Lab testing detailed in the chart above shows IO rates for an Axellio appliance with 48 NVMe SSDs. With that configuration the Axellio can do 7.8M 4KB random write IOPS at 90µsec average response times and 8.6M 4KB random read IOPS at 164µsec latencies. Don’t know why reads would take longer than writes in Axellio, but they are doing 10% more of them.

Furthermore, the difference between read and write IOP rates aren’t close to what we have seen with other AFAs. Typically, maximum write IOPs are much less than read IOPs. Why Axellio’s read and write IOP rates are so close to one another (~10%) is a significant mystery.

As for IO bandwitdh, Axellio it supports up to 60GB/sec sustained and in the 48 drive lax testing it generated 30.5GB/sec for random 4KB writes and 33.7GB/sec for random 4KB reads. Again much closer together than what we have seen for other AFAs.

Also noteworthy, given PCIe’s bi-directional capabilities, X-IO said that there’s no reason that the system couldn’t be doing a mixed IO workload of both random reads and writes at similar rates. Although, they didn’t present any test data to substantiate that claim.

Markets for Axellio

They really didn’t talk about the software for Axellio. We would guess this is up to the customer/vertical that uses it.

Aside from the obvious use case as a X-IO’s next generation ISE storage appliance, Axellio could easily be used as an edge processor for a massive fabric of IoT devices, analytics processor for large RT streaming data, and deep packet capture and analysis processing for cyber security/intelligence gathering, etc. X-IO seems to be focusing their current efforts on attacking these verticals and others with similar processing requirements.

X-IO Technologies’ sessions at SFD13

Other sessions at X-IO include: Richard Lary, CTO X-IO Technologies gave a very interesting presentation on an mathematically optimized way to do data dedupe (caution some math involved); Bill Miller, CEO X-IO Technologies presented on edge computing’s new requirements and Gavin McLaughlin, Strategy & Communications talked about X-IO’s history and new approach to take the company into more profitable business.

Again all the videos are available online (see link above). We were very impressed with Richard’s dedupe session and haven’t heard as much about bloom filters, since Andy Warfield, CTO and Co-founder Coho Data, talked at SFD8.

For more information, other SFD13 blogger posts on X-IO’s sessions:

Full Disclosure

X-IO paid for our presence at their sessions and they provided each blogger a shirt, lunch and a USB stick with their presentations on it.


Disaster recovery from VMware to AWS using Dell EMC Avamar & Data Domain

avI was at Dell EMC World2017 last week and although most of the news was on Dell’s new 14th generation server and Dell-EMC integration progress, Wednesday’s keynote was devoted to storage and non-server infrastructure news.

There was plenty of non-server news but one item that caught my attention was new functionality from Dell EMC Data Protection Division that used Avamar and Data Domain to provide disaster recovery for VMware VMs directly to AWS.

Data Domain (AWS) Cloud DR

Dell EMC Data Domain Cloud DR (DDCDR) is  a new capability that enables DD to backup to AWS S3 object storage and when needed restart the virtual machines within AWS.

DDCDR requires that a customer with Avamar backup and Data Domain (DD) storage install an OVA which deploys an “add-on” to their on-prem Avamar/DD system and install a lightweight VM (Cloud DR server) utility in their AWS domain.

Once the OVA is installed, it will read the changed data and will segment, encrypt, and compress the backup data and then send this and the backup metadata to AWS S3 objects. Avamar/DD policies can be established to control how many daily backup copies are to be saved to S3 object storage. There’s no need for Data Domain or Avamar to run in AWS.

When there’s a problem at the primary data center, an admin can click on a Avamar GUI button and have the Cloud DR server, uncompress, decrypt, rehydrate and restore the backup data into EBS volumes, translate the VMware VM image to an AMI image and then restarts the AMI on an AWS virtual server (EC2) with its data on EBS volume storage. The Cloud DR server will use the backup metadata to select the AWS EC2 instance with the proper CPU and RAM needed to run the application. Once this completes, the VM is running standalone, in an AWS EC2 instance. Presumably, you have to have EC2 and EBS storage volumes resources available under your AWS domain to be able to install the application and restore its data.

For simplicity purposes, the user can control almost all of the required functionality for DDCDR from the Avamar GUI alone. But in case of a site outage, the user can initiate the application DR from a portal supplied by the Cloud DR server utility.

There you have it, simplified, easy to use (AWS) Cloud DR for your VM applications all through Dell EMC Avamar, Data Domain storage and DDCDR. At the moment, it only works with AWS cloud but it’s likely to be available for other public clouds in the near future.


There was much more infrastructure news at Dell EMC World2017. I’ll discuss more details on their new storage offerings in my upcoming Storage Intelligence newsletter, due out the end of this month. If your interested in receiving your own copy of my newsletter, checkout the signup button in the upper right of this page.


[Edits were made for readability and technical accuracy after this post was published. Ed]

There’s a new cluster filesystem on the block, Elastifile

At SFD12 last month we talked with the team from Elastifile. They are a new startup out of Israel working on a better cluster file system.

Elastifile was designed to support 1000s of nodes, 100,000 of users/client and 1000s of data containers (file systems/mount points), together with an infinite (64 bit) number of files and directories and up to Exabytes (10**18) in capacity. They also offer a 100% SSD file store capability. I encourage you to view the videos of their presentations at SFD12 to learn more.

Elastifile features

Elastifile supports data compression and optionally deduplication with NAND/Flash (e. g., low-/high-endurance) storage tiering, cloud storage tiering and multi-site storage. They also provide NFSv3/v4, SMB, AWS S3 and HDFS as native access protocols for their file storage.

They also offer non-disruptive hardware/software upgrades, n-way (2- or 3-way) data and metadata redundancy, self-healing capabilities, snapshots, and synchronous/asynchronous data replication or mirroring. Further, they provide multi-tenancy and QoS support.

Elastifile can be used in hyper converged mode as well as a dedicated storage server mode. For backend storage, they support heterogeneous, physical (block, I think?) storage systems as well as direct access storage in cluster nodes

Internals matter

Elastifile’s architecture supports accessor, owner and data nodes. But these can all be colocated on the same server or segregated across different servers.

Owner nodes, own all the metadata objects for a file or directory and caches the metadata working set in i’s memory. Ownership file or directory metadata may change in the case of hardware failures.

Elastifile supports a dynamic write data path, which means they determine, in real time, where to write file data rather than having the data locations identified before hand. They call this distributed write anywhere semantics.

Notably they don’t do data caching (with NVMe it doesn’t make sense) however, as noted above, they do use metadata caching

Internally, Elastifile uses variable length objects for both file data and metadata.

  • File data is composed of three object types: a file metadata (FileMD) object, mapping data objects, and file data objects. FileMD’s hold the normal file metadata (name, file size, create, access & modify ToDs, etc.) as well as pointing to all the Mapping Object (OIDs). Mapping objects exist for each 0.5MB of file data and consist of a 128 element table, each element mapping 4KB of file address space to a data object (OID). Each  data object holds the 4KB of compressed file data and journal log entries.
  • Director metadata is composed of directory metadata (DirMD) object and Directory listing objects. Directory listing objects maps file/directory names to FileMD or DirMD OIDs. Directory listing objects are accessed via an extensible hash table and contain a list of filenames/directory names within the directory

The Elastifile software architecture consists of three layers:

  • A protocol layer which terminates file system access protocols and translates requests into internal requests. The hashing and data compression of file data occur at this level.
  • A metadata layer which provides file system/directory name mapping to objects for owned files/directories and maintains file/directory metadata updates/journals/checkpoints.
  • A data layer which provides transaction consistency and a n-way redundant persistent data storage for (file or metadata) objects.

Metadata operations are persisted via journaled transactions and which are distributed across the cluster. For instance the journal entries for a mapping data object updates are written to the same file data object (OID) as the actual file data, the 4KB compressed data object.

There’s plenty of discussion on how they manage consistency for their metadata across cluster nodes. Elastifile invented and use Bizur, a key-value consensus based DB. Their chief architect Ezra Hoch (@EzraHoch) did a blog post and paper on Bizur for more information


New file systems generally take many years to mature and get out into the market, cluster file systems even longer. Elastifile started in 2013, by some very smart engineers, is already on the market, just 4 years later. That’s impressive enough, but with their list of advanced functionality plus cloud storage tiering and multi-site operations all shipping in the current product is mind-blowing.

One lingering question is, does a market exist for another cluster file system? All flash is interesting but most of the current CFS’s do this and ship this today. Cloud storage tiering is interesting and a long term need but some CFSs already have this and others are no doubt implementing it as we speak. CFS’s use of objects for internal data and metadata management is not new and may make internals cleaner but don’t really provide a lot of customer benefit.

Exascale raw capacity, support for 100K users, 1000s of nodes, 1000s of file systems and an infinite # of files/directories is interesting. But most CFSs claim this level of support already, although this is more aspirational for some. And proving support at this scale is difficult, if not impossible.

On the other hand, Bizur is really neat. Its primary benefit is during recovery from hardware failures. For a CFS with 1000s of nodes, failures likely occur quite often. So Bizur’s advantage here may pay significant customer dividends.

Is that enough to to market a new CFS?

To see what other SFD12 bloggers have written on Elastifile, please see:

Hardware vs. software innovation – round 4

We, the industry and I, have had a long running debate on whether hardware innovation still makes sense anymore (see my Hardware vs. software innovation – rounds 1, 2, & 3 posts).

The news within the last week or so is that Dell-EMC cancelled their multi-million$, DSSD project, which was a new hardware innovation intensive, Tier 0 flash storage solution, offering 10 million of IO/sec at 100µsec response times to a rack of servers.

DSSD required specialized hardware and software in the client or host server, specialized cabling between the client and the DSSD storage device and specialized hardware and flash storage in the storage device.

What ultimately did DSSD in, was the emergence of NVMe protocols, NVMe SSDs and RoCE (RDMA over Converged Ethernet) NICs.

Last weeks post on Excelero (see my 4.5M IO/sec@227µsec … post) was just one example of what can be done with such “commodity” hardware. We just finished a GreyBeardsOnStorage podcast (GreyBeards podcast with Zivan Ori, CEO & Co-founder, E8 storage) with E8 Storage which is yet another approach to using NVMe-RoCE “commodity” hardware and providing amazing performance.

Both Excelero and E8 Storage offer over 4 million IO/sec with ~120 to ~230µsec response times to multiple racks of servers. All this with off the shelf, commodity hardware and lots of software magic.

Lessons for future hardware innovation

What can be learned from the DSSD to NVMe(SSDs & protocol)-RoCE technological transition for future hardware innovation:

  1. Closely track all commodity hardware innovations, especially ones that offer similar functionality and/or performance to what you are doing with your hardware.
  2. Intensely focus any specialized hardware innovation to a small subset of functionality that gives you the most bang, most benefits at minimum cost and avoid unnecessary changes to other hardware.
  3. Speedup hardware design-validation-prototype-production cycle as much as possible to get your solution to the market faster and try to outrun and get ahead of commodity hardware innovation for as long as possible.
  4. When (and not if) commodity hardware innovation emerges that provides  similar functionality/performance, abandon your hardware approach as quick as possible and adopt commodity hardware.

Of all the above, I believe the main problem is hardware innovation cycle times. Yes, hardware innovation costs too much (not discussed above) but I believe that these costs are a concern only if the product doesn’t succeed in the market.

When a storage (or any systems) company can startup and in 18-24 months produce a competitive product with only software development and aggressive hardware sourcing/validation/testing, having specialized hardware innovation that takes 18 months to start and another 1-2 years to get to GA ready is way too long.

What’s the solution?

I think FPGA’s have to be a part of any solution to making hardware innovation faster. With FPGA’s hardware innovation can occur in days weeks rather than months to years. Yes ASICs cost much less but cycle time is THE problem from my perspective.

I’d like to think that ASIC development cycle times of design, validation, prototype and production could also be reduced. But I don’t see how. Maybe AI can help to reduce time for design-validation. But independent FABs can only speed the prototype and production phases for new ASICs, so much.

ASIC failures also happen on a regular basis. There’s got to be a way to more quickly fix ASIC and other hardware errors. Yes some hardware fixes can be done in software but occasionally the fix requires hardware changes. A quicker hardware fix approach should help.

Finally, there must be an expectation that commodity hardware will catch up eventually, especially if the market is large enough. So an eventual changeover to commodity hardware should be baked in, from the start.


In the end, project failures like this happen. Hardware innovation needs to learn from them and move on. I commend Dell-EMC for making the hard decision to kill the project.

There will be a next time for specialized hardware innovation and it will be better. There are just too many problems that remain in the storage (and systems) industry and a select few of these can only be solved with specialized hardware.


Picture credit(s): Gravestones by Sherry NelsonMotherboard 1 by Gareth Palidwor; Copy of a DSSD slide photo taken from EMC presentation by Author (c) Dell-EMC