LSI created a new product category with its original Nytro Megaraid acceleration products. The company claims that it has surpassed 100,000 shipped units with the line of PCIe flash caching solutions. Today at World Hosting Day in Germany, it is dropping the veil on a new addition to the line.
Nytro Megaraid is a solution which marries flash modules, essentially SandForce-powered SSDs, to a dual core IBM PowerPC RoC (RAID on a Chip). Traditional rotating media, SAS or SATA, can be attached to the RoC as with any RAID card, but the flash helps accelerate frequently accessed data. If a server is already running an LSI RAID product, a Nytro Megaraid can be swapped in, making it an easy upgrade for applications which can benefit from flash caching. Most frequently used data can be serviced from the flash modules themselves, substantially increasing transactional performance and dramatically lowering latency.
The NMR 8140-8e8i is something of a departure from previous Nytro Megaraid offerings, though. Its full height PCIe form factor allows the addition of some new features. With the extra space, LSI has attached an SAS 2 expander, which ups the total number of attached devices from 128 to 236 through its eight internal and eight external SAS ports. Two additional flash modules are also present, upping the total flash storage to 1.6 TB of Toshiba eMLC. This doubles the current range-topping NMR 8120's 800 GB. Previous models are half height and half length, making them compatible with a wider range of servers but reducing the flexibility compared to the newer full height 8140.
Each flash module is an LSI SandForce 2582 controller paired with Toshiba eMLC. With just two flash modules, 1024 GB of flash was the limit. Figure in 28 percent over-provisioning, and the usable space each module could use was limited to just 400 GB. That rule is still in effect, but adding additional flash modules helps bring total capacity up to date.
According to LSI, these features are born mainly of customer demand. As it happens, large web hosting providers are driving sales. Data storage needs are growing extensively year after year, so adding more flash per install is imperative to maintain a respectable ratio of data to cache. Not coincidentally, the number of storage disks is also growing, hence the higher device count. Whereas the original sported just four ports for external connectivity, the new 8140-8e8i offers sixteen. Eight of those are for internal use, while the other eight are intended for external disk enclosures. A typical deployment is purported to be somewhere in the range of 50 to 70 HDDs.
The NMR 8140-8e8i also wields some impressive new features in its firmware. LSI is branding this Flexible Flash, but all it really means is that the onboard flash can now be used for anything. In older incarnations, this ability didn't exist; there was no way to expose flash directly, it was just there to cache. Now, that data can be carved up. Some can be used to replace a server's existing boot drive, while volumes of the flash can be directly used for applications as needed, in addition to traditional cache duties. With the NMR 8140-8e8i's four flash modules, the on board SSDs can run in RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 5. Older models now have this feature, but with only two flash modules, the utility of such an arrangement is minimized.
We're quite familiar with the Nytro Megaraid series here, and perhaps we'll have the opportunity to put the new NMR 8140-8e8i through its paces when they start shipping later this quarter. At $9995, the NMR 8140-8e8i isn't cheap, but in the data center world that's not excessive -- or even expensive. It's not altogether obvious from the price tag, but the Nytro line is still something of a value play. That is, companies are willing to buy flash where it makes sense, and forgo purchases when it doesn't. Dropping $10K on something like the Nytro is far more palatable than re-architecting applications for use with equally expensive PCIe SSDs along with expensive caching software. Perhaps we'll have the opportunity to judge for ourselves when the NMR 8140-8e8i hits the street.