Why would SanDisk buy Fusion-io for $1.1 Billion?

Subject: Editorial, Storage | June 17, 2014 - 06:56 AM |
Tagged: sandisk, fusion-io, buyout

Fusion-io was once a behemoth of flash memory storage. Back when SSDs were having a hard time saturating SATA 3Gb/sec, Fusion-io was making fire breathing PCIe SSDs full of SLC flash and pushing relatively insane IOPS and throughput figures. Their innovations were a good formula at the time. They made the controller a very simple device, basically just a simple bridge from the PCIe bus to the flash memory. This meant that most of the actual work was done in the driver. This meant that Fusion-io SSDs were able to leverage the CPU and memory of the host system to achieve very high performance.

iops (2010).jpg

Fusion-io ioDrive 160 creams the competition back in 2010.

Being the king of IOPS back in the early days of flash memory storage, Fusion-io was able to charge a premium for their products. In a 2010 review, I priced their 160GB SSD at about $40/GB. In the years since, while flash memory prices (and therefore SSD products) have steadily dropped in price while achieving higher and higher performance figures, Fusion-io products have mostly remained static in price. All of this time, the various iterations of the ioDrive continued to bank on the original model of a simple controller and the bulk of the work taking place in the driver. This actually carries a few distinct disadvantages, in that the host system has to spent a relatively large amount of CPU and memory resources towards handling the Fusion-io devices. While this enables higher performance, it leaves less resources available to actually do stuff with the data. This ends up adding to the build cost of a system, as more CPU cores and memory must be thrown at the chassis handling the storage. In more demanding cases, additional systems would need to be added to the rack space in order to handle the additional storage overhead in addition to the other required workloads. Lastly, the hefty driver means Fusion-io devices are not bootable, despite early promises to the contrary. This isn't necessarily a deal breaker for enterprise use, but it does require system builders to add an additional storage device (from a different vendor) to handle OS duties.

iops (2014).png

In 2014, the other guys are making faster stuff. Note this chart is 4x the scale of the 2010 chart.

Lets fast forward to present times. Just over a week ago, Fusion-io announced their new 'Atomic' line of SSDs. The announcement seemed to fall flat, and did little to save the continuous decline of their stock price. I suspect this was because despite new leadership, these new products are just another iteration of the same resource consuming formula. Another reason for the luke warm reception might have been the fact that Intel launched their P3700 series a few days prior. The P3700 is a native PCIe SSD that employs the new NVM Express communication standard. This open standard was developed specifically for flash memory communication, and it allows more direct access to flash in a manner that significantly reduces the overhead required to perform high data throughputs and very high IO's per second. NVMe is a very small driver stack with native support built into modern operating systems, and is basically the polar opposite of the model Fusion-io has relied on for years now.

NVMe.png

Intel's use of NVMe enables very efficient access to flash memory with minimal CPU overhead.

Fusion-io's announcement claimed "The Atomic Series of ioMemory delivers the highest transaction rate per gigabyte for everything from read intensive workflows to mixed workloads.". Let's see how this stacks up against the Intel P3700 - an SSD that launched the same week:



Model Fusion-io PX600 Intel P3700
Capacity (TB) 1.0 1.3 2.6 5.2 0.4 0.8 1.6 2.0
Interface / Flash type PCIe 2.0 x8 / 20nm MLC PCIe 3.0 x4 / 20nm MLC
Read BW (GB/sec) 2.7 2.7 2.7 2.7 2.7 2.8 2.8 2.8
Write BW (GB/sec) 1.5 1.7 2.2 2.1 1.2 1.9 1.9 1.9
4k random read IOPS 196,000 235,000 330,000 276,000 450,000 460,000 450,000 450,000
Read transactions/GB 196 181 127 53 1,125 575 281 225
4k random write IOPS 320,000 370,000 375,000 375,000 75,000 90,000 150,000 175,000
Write transactions/GB 320 285 144 72 188 113 94 88
4k 70/30 R/W IOPS Unlisted 150,000 200,000 240,000 250,000
Read latency 92us 20/115us
Write latency 15us 20/25us
Endurance (PBW) 12 16 32 64 7.3 14.6 29.2 36.5
Endurance / TB 12.0 12.3 12.3 12.3 18.3 18.3 18.3 18.3
Cost Unlisted $1,207 $2,414 $4,828 $6,035
Cost/GB Unlisted $3.02 $3.02 $3.02 $3.02
Warranty 5 years 5 years
                 

Source: Fusion-io / Intel

We are comparing flagship to flagship (in a given form factor) here. Starting from the top, the Intel P3700 is available in generally smaller capacities than the Fusion-io PX600. Both use 20nm flash, but the P3700 uses half the data lanes at twice the throughput. Regarding Fusion-io's 'transaction rate per GB' point, well, it's mostly debunked by the Intel P3700, which has excellent random read performance all the way down to its smallest 400GB capacity point. The seemingly unreal write specs seen from the PX600 are, well, actually unreal. Flash memory writes take longer than reads, so the only logical explanation for the inversion we see here is that Fusion-io's driver is passing those random writes through RAM first. Writing to RAM might be quicker, but you can't sustain it indefinitely, and it consumes more host system resources in the process. Moving further down the chart, we see Intel coming in with a ~50% higher endurance rating when compared to the Fusion-io. The warranties may be of equal duration, but the Intel drive is (on paper / stated warranty) guaranteed to outlast the Fusion-io part when used in a heavy write environment.

For pricing, Intel launched the P3700 at a competitive $3/GB. Pricing data for Fusion-io is not available, as they are behind a bit of a 'quote wall', and no pricing at all was included with the Atomic product launch press materials. Let's take a conservative guess and assume the new line is half the cost/GB of their previous long-standing flagship, the Octal. One vendor lists pricing directly at $124,995 for 10.24TB ($12.21/GB) and $99,995 for 5.12TB ($19.53/GB), both of which require minumum support contracts as an additional cost. Half of $12/GB is still more than twice the $3/GB figure from Intel.

My theory as to why SanDisk is going for Fusion-io?

  • A poor track record since the Fusion-io IPO have driven the stock price way down, making it prime for a buyout.
  • SanDisk is one of the few remaining flash memory companies that does not own their own high end controller tech.
  • Recent Fusion-io product launch overshadowed by much larger (Intel) company launching a competing superior product at a lower cost/GB.

So yeah, the buyout seemed inevitable. The question that remains is what will SanDisk do with them once they've bought them? Merging the two will mean that Fusion-io can include 'in house' flash and (hopefully) offer their products at a lower cost/GB, but that can only succeed if the SanDisk flash performs adequately. Assuming it does, there's still the issue of relatively high costs when compared to freshly competing products from Intel and others. Last but not least is the ioDrive driver model, which grows incresingly dated while the rest of the industry adopts NVMe.

Podcast #287 - AMD R7 265, Coin Mining's effect on GPU Prices, NVIDIA Earnings and more!

Subject: General Tech | February 14, 2014 - 11:11 AM |
Tagged: video, r9 270x, r7 265, r7 260x, podcast, nvidia, fusion-io, arm, amd, A17

PC Perspective Podcast #287 - 02/14/2014

Join us this week as we discuss the release of the AMD R7 265, Coin Mining's effect on GPU Prices, NVIDIA Earnings and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath and Allyn Malventano

 
Program length: 1:09:27
 
  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
  3. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
  4. Closing/outro

Be sure to subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube channel!!

 

Fusion-Io looks to Accelerate your databases

Subject: General Tech | February 11, 2014 - 12:15 PM |
Tagged: fusion-io, PCIe SSD, ION Accelerator

If you love fast storage Fusion-Io has new products you are going to love.  The first is the ION Accelerator, which can hold up to 32TB of flash storage in proper server form factor, the full 32TB likely being 4U.  They rate the speed of this device at 1.7 million random IOPS, 56 microsecond access latency and 23GB/sec of bandwidth.  They also released the hybrid ioControl line of appliances with a flash cache in front of HDDs which will provide great performance at a fraction of the cost of the purely flash ION.  There are three models of ioControl, the n5-50 with up to 1.46TB flash and 160TB, the n5-100 with handles up to 3.14TB of flash and 176TB of HDD and the largest n5-150 with 4.8TB of flash and 192TB of disk space.  Obviously the larger pool of flash can improve performance; to see the full spec sheets drop by The Register.

ion_accelerator.jpg

"These two appliances are essential server/controllers running Fusion-io software with their innards stuffed full of Fusion’s PCIe flash cards, plus disks in the hybrid appliance product. The company says they are “for accelerating enterprise applications including Oracle, SAP HANA, and Microsoft SQL Server, as well as virtualisation workloads.”"

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

IBM will use Fusion-IO cards in their servers

Subject: General Tech | October 2, 2013 - 10:49 AM |
Tagged: IBM, fusion-io, PCIe SSD, enterprise

IBM's F825, F1650, and F3200 Enterprise Value PCIe SSD cards will use Fusion-IO's architecture to provide their servers with a storage speed boost.  Available for order as of the 22nd of this month you will be able to order these cards in sizes up to 3.2TB.  One caveat mentioned at The Register is the terms of the warranty, it is only good for 1 year or the rated number of program/erase cycles, whichever comes first.  High speed storage will be attractive to enterprise purchasers but having to replace the cards every year may cool their enthusiasm quite a bit.

ioscale_3_2tb_500.jpg

"IBM's announcement is here, and says the Fusion-io cards are available for System x and BladeCenter servers. Users get from 825GB to 3.2TB of MLC flash per PCIe slot to accelerate apps in these servers, which no longer have to wait at the data access bus-stop for disk drive latency to send the heads to the right tracks."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Fusion-io Supports Native Memory Access In SDK

Subject: Storage | April 20, 2012 - 09:32 PM |
Tagged: ssd, sdk, ioMemory, fusion-io

Fusion-io, a manufacturer of various PCI-E based solid state drives, has released a software development kit (SDK) that allows developers to access the NAND flash memory directly. Debuting at the DEMO conference, the SDK gives software developers direct access to the memory and how it operates. As Allyn mentioned on the podcast, the Fusion-io drives use rather dumb controllers and rely on software and the host machines processor to do the heavy lifting.

FIO Flash Memory Evolution.PNG

But because of the way the Fusion-io drives work, and being PCI-E based, they are able to present the NAND flash to software without going through other layers of abstraction such as the SATA interface and internal drive controller processing. Software is then able use the NAND flash as storage for applications that demand high input/output operations per second.  And because of the direct access, latency is greatly reduced.

The full press release is below:

Source: Fusion-io

New Fusion ioFX Will Accelerate Professional Workloads

Subject: Storage | April 16, 2012 - 10:11 PM |
Tagged: ssd, ioFX, fusion-io, enterprise ssd

Popular PCI-E SSD maker Fusion-io recently announced a new product aimed at professional content creators. Based on the company’s ioMemory technology, the new Fusion-io ioFX is a professional SSD designed to speed up video encoding, CAD work, 3D renders, and motion graphics.

product-iofx-flat.jpg

The new solid state drive uses the PCI-E bus and 420 GB of fast QDP MLC NAND flash to deliver less than a millisecond of sustained access speed and an impressive 1.5 GB/s of bandwidth. The PCI-E SSD uses a physical x8 connector but is electrically a x4 connection. What I found interesting about the device was the presence of a fan, which our Storage Editor Allyn says is necessary in order to keep the super fast flash chips from overheating. When the SSD needs active cooling, that at least implies this drive is going to scream performance wise!

product-iofx-angle-ver2.jpg

Another interesting aspect about this new drive is a piece of software called the ioSphere. The software will allow studios to remotely monitor all the Fusion ioMemory products deployed in the studio through a single interface. Unfortunately, there is not much more in the way of detailed performance specifications but I will definitely keep an eye on this for the drool factor alone. Fusion-io is currently listing the ioFX for $2,495 USD, and it will be available later this Spring 2012.  More information should be posted to their site as the SSD gets closer to launch here.

Source: Fusion-io