This year’s Flash Memory Summit (FMS), in Santa Clara, CA, brought new milestones to the conference – and a broader discussion of application acceleration and business impacts from the use of flash technology.
It was great to see that wider discussion develop, along with highly technical presentations about everything from flash to emerging technologies like NVMe, and 3D flash.
The business impacts of flash-enabled systems on enterprises were shown through a use-case theme that ran through the Applications track of the conference – and keynotes from companies like Alibaba.com, based in China, which is a worldwide ecommerce business, like e-retailers eBay and Amazon. The Alibaba.com keynote clearly shows how Alibaba.com is leveraging flash for speed and optimal application response time in its web-scale, high-performance infrastructure.
The FMS2014 event drew an all-time high registration of 5,000+; keynote sessions exceeded 1,500 attendees, and breakouts continued until late Thursday afternoon, after three full days of conference content. Many of us didn’t want to go home just yet.
SanDisk® at FMS 2014 – the Unlimited Future of Flash
SanDisk® had a big presence at FMS this year – our booth’s “sails” clearly visible at the entrance to the exhibit floor and our new colleagues from Fusion-io in a booth nearby.
SanDisk also announced that the ULLtraDIMM flash for the memory bus is being adopted by Super Micro Computer Inc. for use in its servers.
In all, there were 20+ SanDisk presentations at FMS2014, with SanDisk experts participating on many panels, as well as ‘Flash Forums’ – short presentations running every 15 minutes in the booth.
Some of the highlights included:
- John Scaramuzzo, SVP and general manager of SanDisk’s Enterprise Storage Solutions (ESS), keynote about “Building the Flash-Transformed Data Center” . He discussed how the megatrends of Cloud, Big Data/Analytics, Mobility and Social Media demand better workload performance than what is provided by traditional data centers based on hard-disk drives (HDDs).
- Steve Fingerhut, VP of Marketing for ESS, presented “Can Flash Help You Ride the Big Data Wave?”.
- In the Enterprise Application track, I presented a talk on “The Financial Services Data Center”(Session G-21). This talk showed how flash is powering many of the most demanding workloads for financial services, including high-performance databases, Hadoop, MongoDB. (LINK to my preso).
- I also moderated a panel called “Flash Changes the Game in Application Performance and TCO”. The speakers talked about flash technology’s impact on customers’ businesses, in terms of improved time-to-results, database acceleration, faster analytics, and improved operational expenses, because SSD-based systems provide more capacity in the same “footprints” as HDD-based deployments.
Steve Wozniak’s Fireside Chat
Several emotional high notes were also hit, including the half-hour fireside chat by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Chief Scientist of Fusion-io, who was interviewed on-stage by VP of Marketing in the IO Memory Solutions division at SanDisk and previous Fusion-io marketing VP, Lee Caswell. Immediately following the fireside chat, Wozniak stayed on-stage, and allowed audience members to come on-stage to meet him, and to take “selfies” standing near him. It was a photo-taking event that turned into a “happening” on-stage.
Here’s what a journalist had to say about this fireside chat. It was a rare event, both because Wozniak is an industry icon – and because of his deep enthusiasm for engineers and engineering, which resonated with the FMS 2014 audience.
Session Highlights – Where Flash Fits
I want to share a few key highlights from the event, based on keynotes and track sessions I attended:
Alibaba.com – Hyperscale: Scaling Up and Out with Flash
Wu Peng, Senior Expert Server Technologist from Alibaba.com, the Chinese cloud-based ecommerce site, addressed the Flash Memory Summit’s keynote session. Wu, whose C.V. includes a reference to his work at Intel’s Asia/Pacific R&D Center, leads Alibaba.com’s Server Technology R&D team that manages server research, planning and development of systems. This group also customizes systems that are optimized to fit the company’s infrastructure and specifications.
Competing with Baidu and TenCent, two other cloud services based in China, Alibaba.com provides e-commerce services to its Internet visitors. Its infrastructure is fast-growing, supporting an estimated $5.8 billion in commerce on an extremely busy shopping day. Alibaba. com’s SEC filing said the company supports 3.6 million computing transactions a minute.
Alibaba.com is expected to have an IPO in September. Because it has not gone public yet, its exact revenue is not known, or published.
Elastic Computing Layers
Elastic computing demands the ability to scale up, and adjust to rapidly growing workloads. To support this infrastructure, Alibaba.com has identified distinct layers of software – optimizing storage to each of these layers: caching, middleware, database and applications. Flash is a key element of the infrastructure – especially in the database and applications layers, to accelerate workloads and speed access to them.
These layers run through the data center infrastructure – and may well serve as a model for other cloud service provider data center deployments, given the built-in capacity, the scale-up capability, and the company’s approach to software-defined storage (SDS).
The company leverages flash for caching, and for web server processing – but the specific flash solutions deployed at each layer are different, Wu said. He addressed the keynote to Silicon Valley companies that, in many cases, will provide the hardware and software solutions to support Alibaba.com’s growing data and infrastructure requirements.
That is a practical, and pragmatic, step that starts a dialog between one of the world’s largest cloud service providers and a roomful of technology providers bringing flash products to market. By deepening the dialog, both parties benefit from the exchange of ideas; a similar dialog has emerged with the Open Compute Summit and Silicon Valley.
Industry-Wide Software Interfaces (APIs)
Many speakers, across the keynotes and the many breakout sessions over the three-day conference, asked the industry to cooperate on standards efforts to bring about industry-standard APIs (application programming interfaces) that will support flash-optimized infrastructure. This theme was mentioned by many speakers throughout the conference, including Forrest Norrod, VP and GM of Dell’s Worldwide Server Solutions business by Jamie Thomas, general manager of IBM’s Storage and Software-Defined Systems businesses; and by Doug Voight, Distinguished Technologist of HP, who works in SNIA industry committees.
Those who seek more industry standards are looking for a relatively small number of widely accepted interfaces—to be agreed upon in the near term—to allow a wide variety of already-written software applications to “plug into” the flash-enabled world. That would make things move much faster, in terms of enabling thousands of applications to run on flash-optimized infrastucture. This same theme came up in the Thursday panel discussion (Session 301-A) that I moderated, saying the interfaces would have a broad impact for applications to leverage flash, without re-writing them. It’s worth noting that SanDisk already offers ZetaScale (NOTE: Add LINK), an API that allows customers to optimize flash for in-memory computing and accelerated workloads.
Software Layers in the Datacenter
I thought one of the most intriguing themes in the breakout sessions was the discussion of “layers” emerging in the datacenter, as software-defined storage takes hold in the datacenter. The layers sort out the workloads—mapping them to the appropriate storage resources. They are fundamental to a scale-out computing environment leveraging distributed file systems. The challenge is that the world of SDS is in its beginning phases, so many customers have yet to explore, evaluate and deploy SDS-based software to bring about this layered world within today’s datacenters. But there’s no question that , this world is well on the way – and will be more widely discussed by next year’s Flash Memory Summit. Some speakers even referred to 2014 as a “tipping point” for greater flash adoption in the enterprise.
FMS presented flash technologies as mainstream building-blocks of the datacenter with a wide reach into all types of organizations. These technologies are relevant for enterprise and cloud – and they’re deployed in servers and storage.
Flash-enabled systems are reaching deep into data center infrastructure, building on already-strong adoption in recent years. Market research data from IDC and Gartner – and others—shows an industry outlook for strong adoption in coming years. The IDC forecast expects enterprise SSD revenue to grow from $3.3 billion in 2013 to $10.9 billion in 2018. That represents a 5-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.9 percent.*
All of which means that flash isn’t a novelty in the data center anymore. Instead, it is front-and-center for IT, as a powerful technology that accelerates workloads for business benefit.
*Source: From Report: IDC # 248727: “Enterprise SSD Forecast 2014-2018: The Need for Speed Grows”