Why FCoE and iSCSI Trump Infiniband in Today’s SSD Deployments; WhipTail CTO Interview Series Part V

In this final installment of our blog series on WhipTail Technologies, a Solid State Drive (SSD) array provider with some impressive features and capabilities, I am continuing my discussion with WhipTail Technologies Chief Technology Officer, James Candelaria. Last time, we looked at how WhipTail implements software RAID on its devices. Today, we will be discussing the different transport protocols supported by the WhipTail array and why the FCoE and iSCSI protocols trump Infiniband in today’s SSD deployments.

Ben:   We have talked a bit about the wide array of hardware you both use and support.  Can you tell me a little bit about the storage protocols supported by WhipTail?  

James:  WhipTail is fully multi-protocol. We support fibre channel (FC), iSCSI, CIFS and NFS, as well as the SCSI RDMA protocol. SSDs are all about latency. It is all about the microsecond response time. The minute you get onto a fiber channel or Ethernet fabric, you are talking about 120 microseconds. You are talking about doing a Remote Directory Memory Access (RDMA) over IP and you are talking about maybe three to ten micros – massive latency advantage there. So we are fully multi-protocol  serviceable.

Ben:   And that is because of where you are in the stack naturally, right?


Ben:     I did a DCIG Buyer’s Guide looking at Enterprise Scale-out Storage.  I was surprised how little Infiniband there is out there in the market.

James:    So am I. It is a great transport. But you know what, I understand. People just do not want another Layer 2 typology in their environment. It costs money to maintain it. Even though the Infiniband switches and Host Channel Adapters today are dirt cheap, there is another cable I have to run. I have to find somebody who understands what a subnet manager is. It is not without its intangible costs.

Ben:    I think that is why a lot of places are going with Fiber Chanel Over Ethernet and iSCSI – just because they understand Ethernet.

James:    Yes, Ethernet is a lowest common denominator in the data center. To be honest with you, when you can make iSCSI go end-to-end in the 120 – 150 microseconds realm, do you really need to go much faster? You have to ask yourself that question.  I am a speed freak at heart. I race cars on the weekend, so I like to push the envelope.

But in the data center, it is not about that. It is about meeting your business objectives.  I honestly think that Whiptail combined with a high speed Layer 2 fabric you already own, like 10 gigabit Ethernet, meets 90 percent of all business objectives. So I try to be less emphatic about my Layer 2 choices. We all have our preferences.

Ben:   Do you see WhipTail as being part of the VDI revolution right now?

James:  VDI’s been a huge success for us because some of our corporate DNA. If you look at some of our senior executives, myself, our CMO Brian Feller, Andy Flesch, our VP in sales, all of us come from a virtualization background. So we get it. And we are effectively able to leverage our knowledge and contacts in that space to solve a glaring hole in the VDI deployment model. Which was “we got all the brokers, we could fix all the display problems, but no one ever told us we need to account for storage performance!”

One day somebody woke up and said “we actually have to do this.”  We were standing right there with the solution and it has been very successful for us. That is for a couple reasons. Obviously first – right place, right time. But the other guiding factor is that there is a new type of buyer that has been empowered to buy storage.

The VDI buyer has zero allegiance to the incumbents.
He has never bought storage before. That buyer has been told “you have to make VDI work, you have to get 5,000 seats up tomorrow.”  He has never bought a NetApp. He has never bought a Symmetrix. He has never bought a Hitachi USP V.

He is looking for something to solve his problem. He is not looking for a storage platform. So that has been one of the reasons we have been really successful in that market.

But as the product progresses and we mature as a company, other markets are obviously naturals for us to get in to – transaction processing, transaction.  We have been very, very successful there, too.

We have a lot of customers that are Oracle shops that found us just too attractive – it was not really their first line of thinking, but somebody approached them and they said “Hey, how about an extremely low latency piece of storage to speed up that report?” 

They gave it a shot and they took report run time down from 24 hours to one hour. All of a sudden their eyes lit up.

I had one customer in particular bought one for a specific use case, and then bought four more because he just decided everything in my data center needs to be this fast -just started buying them like they were candy.

So we have been successful in marketing towards the application owners with problems – tactical solution right now for that report that does not run very well, that PDI performance crunch, that one online transaction database thing.

And just again, I cannot really talk about futures, but watch the space – we are going to go from a tactical company to a strategic company in the near future. So there is some pretty cool stuff coming.

Another thing I find interesting about WhipTail is that, by extending the life of these flash RAMs, you are becoming a force multiplier.

James:    That is actually a phrase we have used around the office quite a bit is “force multiplier.” Alone, SSDs and NAND can only do so much. But when you couple them with an error mitigation strategy, they can become so much more to the data center, more than just a point solution that you think is going to be disposable at the end of the year because of wear, which will stop you from deploying them widely.

Once you get those constraints under control, you can start thinking about using them much more widely across every workload that you have that needs to go faster. Let’s face it, IT, the governing factor on business intelligence has always been performance.

Ben:    I think what is unique here is that you are catching something that is not just improving performance; it is drastically improving the lifespan of the product that you are using.

James:    Exactly. WhipTail is one of those rare things where you get additional performance and you actually get additional endurance simultaneously, which is fairly rare. Intel is able to do it with processors and what not. But on everything else they will usually go together.  It is like the old
adage: &nbs
p; “Good, fast, cheap – pick two.

Ben:    Thank you, James. This has been a lot of good information.

James:    Thanks, Ben. I appreciate your time.

In Part I of this interview series, James explained the SSD garbage collection problem and how WhipTail handles it.

In Part II of the series, James discussed how WhipTail is optimizing SSD performance while minimizing the deficiencies of MLC flash.

In Part III, Candelaria and I discussed how WhipTail deals with manufacturer variations in SSD drives.

In part IV in this series, Candelaria explains how and why WhipTail uses software RAID in its SSD appliance.

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