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Fusion-io Laughing at Other SSD Vendors’ Claims; Interview with Fusion-io CMO Rick White Part IV

Fusion-io’s ability to put 10 – 20 TBs of flash in a single 1U server is turning the world of high performance storage upside down. But the other half of Fusion-io’s game plan is to open up its Virtual Storage Layer (VSL) APIs so that developers can leverage flash – and potentially anybody’s flash – in new and unique ways. Today in part IV of my interview series with Fusion-io’s CMO Rick White, we talk about what competitive advantages organizations can realize by using Fusion-io’s VSL.

Jerome: Your VSL APIs do not get talked about nearly enough but they give Fusion-io a significant competitive advantage in a market that is getting more crowded every day. So tell DCIG’s readers what is going with your VSL and how forward thinking organizations are already leveraging it.

Rick:  We have also started opening up our VSL library to some of these integrators to help give them different competitive advantages even over some of the appliance vendors out there. Atomic Writes is an example of that.

The largest data centers like Facebook and Apple do not buy our products just because we are super fast. They actually buy our product because of VSL. We open up over 150 APIs to them. We have an engineering team that gets assigned to them with a full library of APIs and then that library grows as we work with them.

They spent a huge amount of time tuning and writing their own applications like MySQL (Open Source applications) around the VSL platform. Although we emulate a block device by default that is just because every file system supports disk as a swap space for the last two decades and off-the-shelf applications use that by default.

But ultimately to get the real benefit out of what we developed, it is taking our flash and using it the way as we intended: as memory. That requires rewriting or tuning your software. That is why we get a kick when we read about someone saying, “Hey, we have a new SSD, and it is PCI Express and we are going to take all of Fusion-io’s customers.”

So we just smile and think, “So all of our customers are going to rewrite their apps to go back in time to interact with the disk? We don’t think so.

Jerome: So why create these VSL APIs and why does this give Fusion-io such a competitive advantage over other SSD appliances?

Rick: Our controller is super passive. We don’t have this huge amount of intelligence in the controller. It actually all resides host side in the VSL.

When we were building this memory tier and looking at the file system, there was nothing in the file systems to support this persistent memory tier. We were really limited because some folks want the same I/O commands as they get with storage because our memory tier is persistent. But we also have to have the same extensions as memory.

That is when it occurred to us that we have to create out own virtual memory subsystem. Then we are going to have to create our own commands and then create a library and then create a platform that others can create their own.

So Atomic Writes is an extension. Where if you go to like the disk operating system, you get things commands like “read,” “write,” “append” – really basic commands that have not changed in decades. So we can have several dozen depending on the application.

Jerome: This would seem to be the most compelling part of your offering right now. You have gone well beyond just moving up to the memory tier using flash. You have also created an entire platform of which developers can take full advantage.

Rick: Exactly. We have a handful of hardware engineers. We have 150+ software engineers. We launched this company to be a software company and thought we would convince someone like Micron to make the hardware. We had no intention of ever building the hardware. Someday it would not surprise me if we did not build hardware.

EMC did not become EMC because they had to build disk drives. I understand they were like a RAID controller at one point. But as soon as they could, they jettisoned the hardware. I mean they still OEMed hardware but they did not have to manufacture it. They took a 25 cent per GB disk drive from Seagate and charged $25 per GB because of software and their support services.

We thought to ourselves, “OK, whenever there is a paradigm shift, there is the innovator’s dilemma. Companies like EMC get stuck as they have this high margin crack and what they are used to selling. While they are a great company, they are very strategic. But are they prepared to change their whole business model?

Well, they weren’t. That is why they put SSDs in their boxes. They still wanted to charge per GB and couple performance and capacity together.

In the fifth and final part of our interview series, Rick provides Fusion-io’s takes EMC’s Project Lightning (now known as VFCache) and the gap that persists between SSD providers and Fusion-io’s ioMemory.

In Part I of this series, Rick discussed how server-based flash is poised to change the enterprise.

In Part II
of this interview series with Fusion-io’s CMO Rick White, we will
discuss why this decoupling of I/O performance from storage is necessary
and why this creates a new tier of memory as opposed to a new tier of

In Part III of this series, Rick explains the new Fusion-io Octal drive, what makes
it different from Fusion-io’s earlier ioDrives and how Fusion-io is
going to market with it.


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