Violin Memory Blog

Hear what the experts at Violin Memory have to say about a variety of topics on all things Flash.

SQL Server and the WFA: Part 1 – Lots of I/O

by on July 31, 2014


As you probably already know, Violin Memory has announced all-flash arrays integrated with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2, dubbed the Windows Flash Array (WFA). If you’ve had a chance to give them the once over, it’s obvious that they are a far cry from a white box server with JBOD attached running Windows Storage Server. The WFA is all about high throughput, consistent low latency, scalability, and balanced performance. It’s a true enterprise solution. Of course, this does not happen by generic technology combinations; rather it requires differentiated hardware, the tightest possible software integration, and solution-focused engineering with a vision to excel, or is that accel? Well OK, it’s both.

The unique performance of WFA is compelling for SQL Server workloads. For example, a common database application such as OLTP generates lots of random I/O, which makes sense as it’s driven by copious ad hoc inquiries from all across the enterprise. However, such a workload is a mismatch with legacy storage’s linear read/write focus. This results in high latency and poor application performance. Yet these queries are often associated with high-value real-time applications such as customer support, sales, inventory control, etc. As a result, storage professionals have tried their best to coax more performance from their cylinders of spinning rust but their success has been limited at best.

The WFA combines Violin Memory’s patented Flash Fabric Architecture™ (FFA), Microsoft’s fast SMB Direct protocol, and Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2012 R2. That sounds very nice, but what does it mean? Look inside of a WFA, and you’ll note that there are no disks of any type (HDD or SSD). As a result, there is no need for striping techniques and optimization algorithms, nor is there a need to over provision storage or add cache to controllers in an attempt to garner sufficient I/O capacity. The FFA delivers fast consistent access to our all-flash storage so you don’t have to continuously monitor data hot spots and tune accordingly. In other words, it’s fast without your constant worry and attention.


How is fast is fast? Pretty darn fast. We did some SQLIO Load testing on a WFA-64 equipped with 56GBb FDR InfiniBand connectivity at a customer site; here’s the performance we observed:

The WFA delivered over 1.2 million IOPS on SQL reads. That’s up to 50% higher performance compared with an industry-standard all-flash array connected through Fibre Channel.

The WFA delivered 1.2 million IOPS on SQL writes, which was proportionally even more impressive. That’s up to twice the throughput compared with an industry standard all-flash array with Fibre Channel.

From these numbers you can see that the WFA is up to the task of delivering the sustained performance for short block random read/write workloads. And, there is no ongoing tuning required. But did you know that this performance was achieved over a file-based solution, not block?

The WFA delivers DAS-like performance due to its support for SMB Direct, also known as SMB over RDMA. You can have simplicity of a file-based environment but without sacrificing the performance you’re accustomed to with block-based solutions. The advantages of file over block can fundamentally change your ease of use and efficiency. So much so, this is worthy of a discussion of its own; we’ll dive in depth on this in a future blog.

From an I/O perspective, we can do a lot in 3U to boost your SQL Server performance. But just attaining a high IOPS number does not guarantee balanced performance for a mix of multiple workloads. Achieving consistent low latency is essential, as this will transform how your SQL database and related apps perform, and your expectations! We’ll continue on this theme the next time.


Learn how Violin and Microsoft collaboratively optimized this solution to leverage WFA’s unique performance profile so you can run your SQL Server environment in a Flash.

For more information on the WFA and SQL Server, go to

Why Implement an All Flash Data Center?

by on June 23, 2014


The argument goes something like this: if flash costs more than disk, why would you spend the money on an all-flash data center?  Some might suggest that you just use flash for intense I/O applications like databases where you can justify the additional expense over disk.

What we see from our customers is different.  Not all have gone all-flash, but for those that have the benefits are many.

All-flash data centers can provide new sources of revenue.  Lower operating costs.  Elimination of slow I/O workarounds.  Improved application response times.  Faster report turnaround.   Simplified operations. Lower capital costs.

As a storage subsystem manufacturer, we put together the best system we can design, but we are constantly being schooled by our customers.  For instance, we had a large telecom customer who felt they were missing some billing opportunities and redesigned their customer accounting software.  When they implemented it on their traditional storage system, they didn’t see much benefit. They saw the application wanted even more I/O, and brought in Violin.  As a result they found over $100 million in new revenue.  That paid for the project handsomely, of course.  This is revenue that wasn’t available with traditional storage, but is captured due to Violin’s low latency.

Another example of how flash storage changes the data center is the impact of low latency on servers and the software that runs on them.  Moving to a Violin All Flash Array speeds I/O so much, the traditional layers of overprovisioning and caching can be eliminated.  The result: better application performance with lower costs.  Customers have also told me they can also free up people from this consolidation to redeploy on more productive efforts since there is no need to manage the overprovisioning and caching infrastructure.

However, not all All Flash solutions are created equal.  SSD solutions are inferior to a backplane-based approach like Violin’s Flash Fabric Architecture™.  Consider key operating metrics such as power and floorspace.  For instance,  70 raw TB from Violin takes 3RU of space.  Common SSD-based solutions take 12RU (or more) for the same raw capacity. This density also translates into power.  The Violin 70TB will take 1500W, while common SSD approaches may take over 3000W for the same capacity.  This translates into operating expense savings.  One customer recently estimated they would save 71% in operating costs with Violin over traditional storage.

Additionally, Violin Flash Fabric Architecture provides superior performance, due to the array-wide striping of data and parallel paths for high throughput that holds up under heavy loads.  It also provides for better resiliency, since hot spots are essentially eliminated.  The result is not just a big step up over traditional disk storage, it is a significant improvement over SSD-based arrays.

Customers who have gone all-flash for active data have found they can buy the new storage and server equipment, and still have money left over.  This is in addition to any new sources of revenue realized, such as the Telecom example.  Flash is essentially free.

The last hurdle has been data services.  Some customers who have Violin installed love the performance, but were hesitant to put all their data on it because they wanted to have the enterprise level availability features.  Capabilities such as synchronous and asynchronous replication, mirroring and clustering give enterprises a robust tool kit.  They configure their data centers in a variety of ways that will protect against local issues like fire, metro area problems like hurricanes/typhoons, and regional issues with a global replication.  These capabilities now exist in the Concerto 7000 All Flash Array from Violin Memory.  This allows enterprises who want to experience transformative performance to also employ the operational capabilities they need to meet their data center design goals.

The move to the all-flash data center is upon us.

The question really is: Why wouldn’t you implement an all-flash data center with Violin?

For more information go to

Violin & Microsoft’s High-Performance, All-Flash Enterprise Storage

by on April 24, 2014

Guest Blog:
Scott M. Johnson
Senior Program Manager, Windows Storage Server

Hi Folks –

Violin Memory today announced the Violin Windows Flash Array (WFA)—an all-flash, high-performance storage appliance powered by Windows Storage Server 2012 R2.

Here are the highlights:

  • The WFA is the result of a joint development effort between Violin and Microsoft, which spent more than 18 months working together on software optimizations to get the most out of the array’s unique performance profile.
  • It takes advantage of SMB Direct (SMB 3.0 over RDMA) and Violin’s flash memory optimization algorithms to deliver an ideal combination of low latency, high IOPS, and low CPU use.
  • Performance provided by the WFA makes it an ideal storage platform for major enterprise workloads, including Microsoft SQL Server, Hyper-V virtualization, and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

If you’re not already coveting a Windows Flash Array for your own IT infrastructure, let me put things another way: This incredibly powerful storage appliance delivers 70 terabytes (TB) raw storage capacity, nominal latencies of less than 500-microseconds, and more than 750,000 4K IOPS—all in a 3U, dual-node cluster that draws about 1500 watts and can be deployed in as little as 30 minutes, without an advanced degree in storage networking!

Now that I’ve covered the highlights, let’s take a deeper look at Architecture, Performance, Scalability, Availability, and Manageability in a three-part series.

Read More…

Software Defined Datacenter for Windows

by on April 21, 2014

Windows in the Enterprise has been a SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange kind of thing, with a little Hyper-V thrown in.  In many cases there might be several, even hundreds of SQL databases throughout the enterprise, sometimes consolidated under Hyper-V, sometimes not.  Apps such as SharePoint and Exchange can sometimes grow to the point where a difficult and hard to maintain.  One of the common sore points in datacenter computing, not just Microsoft environments, is the I/O.  Mechanical storage is just too slow.  Caching helps.  Overprovisioning helps.  They don’t fix the problem, however.

To really fix I/O problems, you need to rethink the datacenter.  Microsoft and Violin have done that with the new Windows Flash Array.  For maximum flexibility, availability and affordability, you need to virtualize each of the 3 datacenter layers: compute, network and storage.  You’ve probably heard this described as software defined computing.  In the first layer, compute,  resources are virtualized by Hyper-V in a Microsoft datacenter.  Although this has not been extensively used, it is included in your Windows Server license, and is much improved, so use it.  In the second layer, network,  resources are virtualized in the latest Windows Server 2012 R2.  This enables the use of SMB Direct and multichannel networking.  This provides link failover, bandwidth balancing, and with SMB Direct, screaming performance with remote direct memory access (RDMA) which can bypass most of the OS software stack, and operate at better than Fibre Channel speeds, for less money.



Finally, storage needs to be reformed.  This comes in two pieces: the file system and the storage itself.  Windows Server 2012 R2 includes support for SOFS, or Scale Out File System.  This provides a uniform naming convention that allows seamless growth for storage as applications grow.  This layer is critical for the software defined datacenter, and it is now available from Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2012 R2.  Violin’s Windows Flash Array provides the hardware platform that makes all this possible with a Flash array that has been tuned to take advantage of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2.  That’s right, Violin’s Windows Flash Array and Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 have been designed to work together.  So far, Violin is the only vendor so honored by Microsoft.

You might be thinking “that sounds neat, but is there any real benefit to me?”   Windows applications using Violin All Flash Storage Arrays do perform at an extreme level.  Windows applications using the Violin Windows Flash Array take performance to a new level.  By using SMB Direct to connect the application server and the Violin Windows Flash Array you can get up to 2x the performance of the leading all flash array.  It also gives you the proven storage features of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2, such as deduplication, compression, thin provisioning, snapshots, mirroring, encryption, migration, tiering and virtual desktops.

This is interesting enough, but taken to the next step, it provides a framework to remake your Windows datacenter using SMB Direct with RDMA.  Remaking your Windows datacenter with this architecture almost eliminates the software stack latency, and is the basis for that humongous increase in performance, ease of use and manageability.  It does make one think.

Latency Matters

by on January 24, 2014

Independent studies by Google and Microsoft’s Bing team were seeking to understand the impact of latency on user behavior. Their studies generated surprising results. The companies presented their results jointly at the O’Reilly Velocity conference in San Jose CA in May of 2009.

They wanted to assure their investment in systems to deliver search results and advertising was indeed based on user results, and if possible, business impact. The fact that these two companies came to very similar conclusions after their independent experiments brings a lot of credibility to their joint conclusion. The result of their research: latency matters.
Read More …

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