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Archie Hendryx

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The Fast and Furious - SUN's F5100 Flash Array

A new breed of directly attached cost effective Flash Arrays which don't sacrifice performance

It's not often that I get excited over new hardware, well at least not on a daily basis but the new Sun Storage F5100 Flash Array was something I felt compelled to write about.

So what exactly excites me of what is in essence just a JBOD of SSDs? Could it possibly be the delivery of over 1.6 million read and 1.2 million write IOPS? Could it also be that an approximate 100K price tag for 2TB of SSDs works out at as a much cheaper alternative to flash drives which would have ordinarily been in a capsule residing at the back end of an Enterprise array? The answer is "yes" and then some. Not only is it a cheaper option but being based on Single Level Cell (SLC) non-volatile solid-state technology with 64 SAS lanes (16 x 4-wide ports), 4 domains and SAS zoning, the F5100 provides flexible and easy deployment as well as scalability.


In order to really take advantage of the high performance of this array the obvious step is to directly attach it to any read intensive databases such as a datawarehouse. Hence the first step would inevitably be to decipher which data within your read intensive database would be most appropriate to ascertain the maximum performance of the Flash array. To aid you with this SUN also conveniently provide a free Flash Analyzer which provides you those very results by analysing which LUNs are facing the most read IO activity.

So once the pinpointing of the appropriate data has been identified, ZFS can then be utilised to automate the data management and protection. Using the data-integrity features in Solaris ZFS, which checks and corrects block data level checksums, corrupt blocks can easily be identified and repaired. Another option is to look at the major overhead of the ZIL vol of the Zpool of a read intensive database, isolate it to the Flash array disks and see your performance shoot up. Furthemore need I say if you configure them with RAID 10 instead of RAID 5 and hence eliminate the parity calculation, your performance will increase even further?

Another nice addition is that the F5100 comes with the user friendly GUI Common Array Manager , (far simpler and quicker to grasp than say HDS' Storage Navigator or EMC's Navisphere. Therefore managing the disks as LUNs, checking their health status and viewing alarms is no different to the normal environment Storage Engineers face on a daily basis.

This is where I see flash drives really taking off and being adopted in the mainstream i.e directly attached SSDs which are a fraction of the price and offer the same if not better performance than there Back End Flash SSD counterparts. Ironically, as the Oracle SUN partnership still remains in hiatus and the far more expensive alternative of Oracle's Exadata V2 still struggles to find a major market, an interesting challenge has arisen which not only affects Storage vendors who have already sold their soul to the idea that Flash must exist on the Back End...


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SAN, NAS, Back Up / Recovery & Virtualisation Specialist.