December 22 2015: I kept this blog in draft for 6 months. Now I am releasing it as NetApp acquires Solidfire.
The above is an old Chinese adage which means “True Gold fears no Fire“. That is how I would describe my revisited view and assessment of SolidFire, a high performance All-Flash array vendor which is starting to make its presence felt in South Asia.
I first blogged about SolidFire 3 years ago, and I have been following the company closely as more and more All-Flash array players entered the market over the 3 years. Many rode on the hype and momentum of flash storage, and as a result, muddied and convoluted the storage infrastructure market understanding. It seems to me spin marketing ruled the day and users could not make a difference between vendor A and vendor B, and C and D, and so on….
I have been often asked, which is the best All-Flash array today. I have always hesitated to say which is the best because there aren’t much to say, except for 2-3 well entrenched vendors. Pure Storage and EMC XtremIO come to mind but the one that had stayed under the enterprise storage radar was SolidFire, until now.
While many All-Flash vendors were chest beating and drumming up superficial mindshare, SolidFire was busy honing its technology horns in the service provider market. This is a very important thing to note, because the service provider market is an extremely difficult market.
The service providers demand absolute reliability and performance, yet it must be done economically. The data performance characteristics of service providers can range from very high IOPS to very high throughput because they have to cater a diverse range of applications, even HPC (high performance computing) applications.
The data availability has to be 100% as far as the service providers are concerned, and therefore the technology’s reliability has to be SOLID. At the same time, the technology and the infrastructure must be able to scale to tens of thousands of applications, hosts and users.
I use a few “indicators” to reason why SolidFire is one of the best.
Gartner Magic Quadrant is probably a favourite to many. Its 2014 Solid State Array Magic Quadrant can be downloaded here. But the Gartner Magic Quadrant gives a market view of each All-Flash vendors perception and positioning in the market. The more accurate “indicator” for me, if I go along the Gartner fandom, is the Gartner Critical Capabilities Report for Solid State Arrays. You can download a copy of the Gartner Critical Capabilities August 2014 report here.
In the August 2014 report, SolidFire is ranked #1, despite having lesser mindshare and marketing. Below is the overall use case ranking:
This means that SolidFire is more capable in handling a diverse range of workloads rather than just the usual OLTP databases, server virtualizations and VDIs. The early training and hardening of SolidFire in the service providers’ arena paid off handsomely because of their unique technology of guaranteed performance and QOS (quality of service).
In the report, SolidFire was also tops in the High Performance Computing ranking and the Analytics Use case ranking as well, thanks to their service provider roots. See the HPC ranking table below:
My second “indicator” is the SolidFire’s credo of guaranteed I/O QOS. Storage professionals like us know that to guarantee I/O performance is very, very difficult. Applying that credo of guaranteed I/O performance in a service provider’s environment can be suicidal. If the storage technology cracks under pressure of the super demanding, multi-tenant, multi-applications in the service provider’s environment, then it is finished.
Yet, not only SolidFire survived and thrived, it has now come out faster and better because it knows that it can withstand and exceed the requirements and the demands of the enterprise.
As SolidFire begins its foray into the enterprise applications market, I can see that they are listening to the market and customers. I saw a beautiful thing, the third “indicator”, when they made it possible to mix new Solidfire nodes with existing nodes in the scale-out cluster, and also future software upgrades will interoperate with older nodes. This was announced through their Platform Compatibility Guarantee early this year.
I have not seen any vendor, not just storage vendors, giving the customer an unprecedented level of service and support commitment. Usually, it is a few versions of software or firmware upgrades and then a controller or a hardware change is required.
In conclusion, I have highlighted 3 “indicators” which have given me a good reason to vote SolidFire as one of the best All-Flash arrays today.
- The ability to handle diverse workloads, not just a few application segments
- Its performance I/O quality of services, which is very, very hard to do but they pulled it off
- A long lasting, multi-generation nodes and software support and service program through its Platform Compatibility Guarantee program
While SolidFire is a fantastic All-Flash technology, it is important to note that any All-Flash solution is not a panacea to an organization’s data architecture. It is not a cure-all to the organization’s data storage landscape. I mentioned that there are many different factors and considerations a data architecture must think about in order to ensure the right mix of storage and data management in any organization. I stated my case in my previous blog about data silos.
NOTE: The time is right to release this blog.