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Skyera: All-Flash Data Center Under Your Arm

Skyera: All-Flash Data Center Under Your Arm
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Skyera's skyEagle offers 500TB in 1U, making it an intriguing and disruptive storage technology, not to mention an efficient and cost effective solution for the enterprise.

Rado Danilak, who co-founded Sandforce, a company that manufactured flash memory controllers before its acquisition by LSI, has started another completely disruptive storage company called Skyera. His genius-inspired proposition? Using proprietary hardware and an optimized flash software stack, to create the best density and capacity, performance, and low power usage at a price below other systems. 

Rado Danilak addressing Storage Visions 2014.  Rado Danilak addressing Storage Visions 2014. In English, one of his products, skyEagle, boasts 500 TB in a 1U system, for $1.99 per formatted GB. That is close to one million dollars and may seem expensive, but most competitors are 72u or so, use much more power, and are much more expensive. Furthering the disruptive nature of this with proprietary and advanced compression and deduplication, Skyera achieves 2.5 PB (petabytes) effective storage, with a 5:1 ratio, at a cost of .49 per GB.

Why is this so disruptive? 500 TB in a 1 U system is literally a data center under your arm! Applications are numerous: disaster recovery; upgrading or deploying a massive database is easier and faster (shipping 1 U rather than trying to send updates or initial configurations over the wire); and reduction of footprint and power costs.

What is the difference between SSDs and flash memory? 

What is a 1U?

1U is 1.75 inches; the standard full rack height is 42U.

In this case, versus other arrays using flash, there are no metal cases. By also not being tied to an arbitrary form factor inherent in SSDs, along with no case requirement, Skyera achieves a factor of 10 to 100 increase in memory density. The second difference is that many HDD based SANs, such as some of those manufactured by EMC, are based on a standard Intel architecture chassis. Skyera uses a layer of software to optimize component function, and is vertically integrated. Another difference, at least in the making of skyEagle, is that Danilak was able to overcome many of the less favorable aspects of inexpensive flash memory, especially concerning read/write cycles.

How was Danilak able to increase the density of flash memory and sell skyEagle for a very competitive price? There are at least three broad innovations that allowed Danilak to further increase density whilst using inexpensive flash, and increasing the number of available writes.

SLC vs MLC vs eMLC 

Broadly speaking, there are three types of flash memory:

  • eMLC -- enterprise Multi-Level Cell,
  • MLC -- Multi-Level Cell,
  • SLC -- Single Level Cell. 

eMLC can support IOPS in the hundreds of thousands. MLC is made in on 60-90 nm process, sells for less than .50/GB, and is typically what is in an iPhone or Galaxy. eMLC, enterprise grade, can now be fabricated on a 20-25nm process, and supports up to 20k-30k writes per cell - approximately three times the write capability of consumer grade MLC.

Multi-level cell (MLC) flash types store multiple bits per cell, via voltage differences per level, is less expensive than SLC, slower, and supports 1000 writes per block.

SLC is the most expensive cell type, and has one cell per bit, so that equals two possible states. Flash using SLC has the capability of performing millions of IOPS (input/output operations per second), but is rarely used in very large arrays, and frequently is used as cache or other storage adjunct because of the cost. SLC lifetime per cell is 50k -100k writes.  SLC comprises less than 2 percent of all flash shipped.