PernixData comes out of stealth to attack server-side flash problem

Server-side flash memory is a big thing. It puts fast storage right next to the compute nodes, which speeds things up, but that model is not particularly virtualization friendly. Startup PernixData, once known as ProximData, wants to change that — it aspires to be what it calls “the VMware(s vmw) of server flash.”

PernixData co-founder and CTO Satyam Vaghani

PernixData co-founder and CTO Satyam Vaghani

The company co-founders know from VMware. CEO Poojan Kumar once headed up data product initiatives at the virtualization giant, where he worked on vFabric Data Director and other projects. Co-founder and company CTO Satyam Vaghani was principal engineer at VMware, where he worked on the vSphere kernel and created the company’s VMFS clustered file system.

PernixData’s software, now in beta, will aggregate all of a customer’s server-side flash into one shareable pool. “We make a flash virtualization platform that sits between your apps and the primary storage system and acts as a read/write acceleration tier for all the data in motion,” Vaghani said in an interview.

No rip and replace

The software itself runs on the servers — actually within the hypervisors. It only works with VMware initially but Microsoft(s msft) Hyper-V and KVM support is promised. That means customers don’t have to replace existing servers or their existing primary storage, and that’s an attractive proposition for many businesses that don’t want to rip out and replace perfectly good hardware.

PernixData claims its software-only approach to this problem is unique. That may be but many other vendors are also attacking the issues associated with server-side flash performance, says Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist of Deep Storage LLC. “There are 22 products in my database that in one way or another use solid state flash to accelerate access to shared storage and make things go faster,” he said.

Making server-side flash virtualization friendly

Legacy giants like HP(s hpq), NetApp(s ntpp), and EMC(s emc), all have their takes on the problem but none of those products fit very well into a virtualized world, analysts said.

“If you put flash in a server, then flash is owned by that server,” Marks said. And that causes problems for companies that want to use Vmotion to move their workloads around. PernixData writes the data to SSDs in at least two servers, which means that if one goes down, the surviving server can flush that data to where it needs to be, said Marks.

Marks does give PernixData credit, which received an unspecified amount of A Series funding from Lightspeed Ventures, for its software-only focus, noting that last year Dell spoke of a similar strategy called Fluid Cache, based on technology acquired from RNA Networks, but it’s not on the market yet.

But as Marks pointed out, there are many other ways to skin the server flash storage cat. “Flash is a complicated space and there are so many startups and technologies it’s hard to see where they all fit. Pernix seems to be the only software-only way to unlock server-side flash to be more scalable but there are many other companies working to enhance flash,” said Stuart Miniman, Wikibon analyst.

 QLogic, for example, bakes software into its adapters that take PCIE server side flash storage or other SSDs and turns them into a SAN device, Miniman said. And, GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham outlined Jeda Networks’ take on the problem earlier this week.