Saturday, March 26, 2016

PureStorage bring us one step closer to micro storage architecture

Pure storage just released its Flashblade product. It is an fabric connected object storage solution. It is a modular solution composed of a large numbers of blades which are each made of :
  • 8TB to 52TB raw NAND storage capacity : a lot but still take less than half the real estate space on each blade.
  • NV-RAM+supercapacitor write buffer : when your NAND is still too slow you want to have a persistent buffer of NVRAM to handle the bursts
  • ARM CPU + FPGA : to deal with the “low level” operations such as erasure code, etc..
  • 8 core Xeon System on chip : for moving the computation to where the data is located, pretty much all the high level operation such as NFS , S3 , object storage etc.. 
  • 40 Gbit ethernet : that s where the data gets out
  • PCIe fabric networking : in chassis solution linking compute, storage cards via a proprietary protocol, what’s interesting is that the system is self contained and scaling with other box goes through the 10 Gb/s connectivity and not a proprietary fabric link. Which implies that it doesn’t need exotic solution once you go past the box boundaries. This is great as it makes it easy (and cheap) to scale however I wonder what are the implication in term of performance once you start crossing boundaries.


What is interesting is that, when you look at Purestorage solution, they decided to integrate the high level compute aspect of storage directly with the low level one in a single blade. They ended of with an hybrid solution combining ARM and FPGA for low level aspect such as deduplication, erasure code. And the Xeon for the object storage and file system solution. 

One can assume that the decision behind such architecture was driven by the customers requirement that tend to want a high performance Jack of all trade solution. I can picture the product manager arguing for supporting every scale out storage protocol popular at the moment. However, Jack always end up master of none and to over compensate PureStorage had to pump up the compute capabilities.

While this seems like a good choice it is also counter productive in term of Watt per GB coupled with a lot of real estate wasted or duplicated. Don’t get me wrong, what Pure achieved with the flashblade is impressive but I can’t stop thinking that they should have taken it a step further.

This type of high performance, high-cost and high-power architecture technology is a right step toward micro storage architecture which delivers low cost low power high performance and scalability features. Now it is all about trimming down the system while maintaining scalability by dividing the blade system into a much larger number of smaller nodes, literally offering what the ethernet connected equivalent of HGST with flash.

However this might also implies that you won’t be able to offer support for every single storage solution out there (NFS, S3, block, etc..) without having to rely on either client side processing or using a frontend. This should be achievable while maintaining excellent performance, the key to this will hide in the detail of the core storage api employed.