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Analysis

TMS RamSan 720 HA flash aims to finish off high-end disk
Peter Williams By: Peter Williams, Practice Leader - IT Infrastructure Mgmt., Bloor Research
Published: 6th December 2011
Copyright Bloor Research © 2011
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Texas Memory Systems (TMS) has launched the first flash storage incorporating hardware high availability (HA) features aimed at taking on large disk subsystems - the RamSan 720.

The SANflash 1U high enclosure includes 6 or 12TB of SSD, a centralised RAID controller, and uses about 3-400W in power. The company says this works out at about $20 per GB - making it price-competitive with the fastest (15,000 rpm) spinning disk subsystems, especially when an ongoing saving in power and cooling is factored in.

The HA features achieve no single point of failure, through a change of design from its previous 710 model. These include: dual port gateway (40 or 80Gb flash chip on each module), 9+1 parity, hot-swap flashcards, ECC error correction, dual RAID controllers as well as two-dimensional variable-stripe RAID 5 (TMS patented) - with dynamic re-striping of data. The backplane has one module as an active spare, so the system can fix data at the lowest level on the board - re-generating the whole board and clock if necessary.

Chip over-capacity (c20%) provides for partial failure recovery, the system continuing to run live with no human intervention needed for maintenance.

While TMS is going for a potential $1Bn market, it knows it will find it hard to displace large OEM incumbents who provide hard disk arrays and back-end support. Even if one of these is willing to incorporate the RamSan 720 as its own, it will undoubtedly place tight controls on pricing and strategy.

So TMS is also focusing heavily on its worldwide third party reseller relationships, also diversifying to add more outside the federal and financial sectors in which it had its major past successes. The low maintenance with HA should strike a chord with mid-market users who have little internal support resource, but need screaming performance at tier 0 or 1. The RamSan 720 size, marginally less than a standard rack-mounted server, allows for a half PB of storage to be held in a single rack.

As of now, the RamSan 720 supports fibre channel (FC) and Infiniband, the company claiming it can achieve aggregated "straight-through" performance through the ports - for instance for 8Gb FC using four ports an aggregate of reads and writes of nearly 6GB/s is practical (Infiniband slightly better).

All in all, this looks like an attractive high performance storage package, which should get some early wins in the mid-market as it gradually makes inroads further up the food chain.

With solid state disks (SSD) reducing in price by around 25% per annum, and reliability techniques built in to achieve usability for as much as 10 years, this type of device is already becoming a strong competitor for the high performance (and price) top-end spinning disk market. It is then a matter of time before the 10K rpm drives are seriously challenged...and so on.

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