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VMblog's Expert Interviews: Burlywood Talks "Software-Defined Flash"


Burlywood TrueFlash is the industry's first modular flash storage architecture that accelerates time to market of new flash technology while delivering disruptive cost and performance benefits to customers deploying cloud storage solutions, all-flash arrays, and hyper-converged solutions.  To better understand what Burlywood is up to and find out more about "software-defined flash," VMblog went straight to the expert and spoke with Tod Earhart, the company's CEO. 

VMblog:  Many in the industry might accuse you of combining two buzzwords with "software-defined flash," but what Burlywood is advocating is that the flash architecture should be tuned to the workload needs.  Is that an accurate assessment?

Tod Earhart:  Yes. Everything in the modern datacenter has been redesigned to increase performance in this rapidly evolving environment, except the storage components. HDD and SSD architecture and delivery models have been the same for decades. Software-defined architectures have improved storage arrays, networking, security, and most other aspects of the datacenter. It is now time for the storage components themselves to benefit from the flexibility and tunability provided by being software-defined.

VMblog:  Is the primary barrier to deploying all-flash environments still cost, or is it inflexibility, or some of each?

Earhart:  It's definitely a bit of both as well as other factors. While the performance of flash is well understood, the price premium over HDD is still prohibitive for many applications. The inflexibility of today's SSD solutions contributes to this cost equation. Traditional SSDs cannot adapt to changing workloads or introduction of new applications in real time. The inadequacies of these SSDs force customers to throw money at the problem by essentially buying more than they need - overprovisioning in the SSD, more infrastructure, or software layers that mask the shortcomings of the storage device. A software-defined and programmable solution like Burlywood TrueFlash can rapidly adapt to changing workloads, accommodate new features in a fraction of the time of ASIC-based architectures, and more efficiently utilize storage by perfectly matching flash to the particular workload. With earlier time-to-market of new flash nodes, utilizing lower-cost flash, and Burlywood's unique business model, the combined effect is up to 40% cost savings compared to traditional SSDs. That kind of cost savings lowers the barrier of entry for all-flash to replace HDD systems.   

VMblog:  Is the issue with commodity SSDs more likely to be inconsistencies in performance, reliability, capacity, or does it depend?

Earhart:  It depends. All of those are important factors but the priority is different for each customer.

Let's start with performance. Some of our customers are frustrated with the fact that they have spent time, money, and resources to qualify commodity SSDs only to find that the performance of those drives cannot evolve when application changes take place. The ability to modify the behavior of commodity SSDs once deployed is extremely limited. TrueFlash software can characterize data traffic patterns and be modified very quickly to accommodate changing requirements, eliminating the need to qualify new storage devices.

Next, let's talk about reliability. While most commodity SSDs are fairly reliable with low failure rates and high MTBF, those factors come at a high price. Commodity SSDs for the datacenter are designed for the worst-case IO profile and lowest-common denominator usage situation. This is achieved by using only the highest quality NAND and with excessive overprovisioning, resulting in a more expensive solution. Because TrueFlash SSDs are matched to specific workloads, we can use less flash and, in many cases, less expensive flash to achieve the same reliability and service life for our customers' applications.

Finally, capacity scaling is an issue for commodity SSDs. We are seeing drives for the datacenter being introduced in capacities of 8TB, 16TB and even higher. However, traditional SSD architecture is not designed to scale well above the 4TB mark so we witness tradeoffs in these new capacity points. Some drives compromise performance to scale capacity while others maintain performance by adding expensive DRAM capacity within the drive to manage their sprawling flash management tables. Because TrueFlash software was designed from the start to be optimized for cloud and hyperscale datacenters, we can scale up to dozens and even hundreds of TB behind a single controller without compromising performance or adding excessive DRAM.

VMblog:  How are you able to offer customization using FPGAs instead of ASICs?

Earhart:  The processing power, footprint, and cost of FPGAs have made enormous strides recently that make it possible to create a truly functional flash storage controller. While ASICs require many months or even years to develop, qualify, and deploy, FPGAs can be reprogrammed to support new features, changing workloads, and even new flash technology virtually instantly. TrueFlash software can be customized across a vast array of parameters that are important to the customer including performance, traffic patterns, quality of service, security, endurance... you name it - nothing is off limits.

VMblog:  What are the applications that stand to benefit most from software-defined flash - or is it as likely to be any workload as long as it's at hyperscale?

Earhart:  Any application that has a well-defined workload can benefit from software-defined flash because the behavior of the storage can be perfectly matched to that workload. However, any workload at hyperscale can take advantage of the other benefits of Burlywood TrueFlash such as workload profiling, customization per data stream, rapid introduction of new features and/or flash technology. Of course, any customer operating at hyperscale will find Burlywood's software-defined approach and unique business model to be of tremendous value as it significantly reduces acquisition costs.

VMblog:  Similarly, what are the industries where you're seeing adoption of software-defined flash, and how are they optimizing it differently from each other?

Earhart:  Hyperscale datacenters find software-defined flash to be attractive for a number of reasons. A single SSD design can be given different software "personalities" that are perfectly tuned to a variety of workloads. All-flash array vendors enjoy the tunability of the software and the insight into drive management provided by TrueFlash software. Database users can realize improved quality of service provided by the ability of TrueFlash to optimize performance for different data streams within the same controller. As we continue to engage with customers, we are finding more and more areas where a software-defined flash storage solution can provide powerful competitive advantages.


Published Monday, July 23, 2018 7:33 AM by David Marshall
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