Category Archives: David Flynn

SATA, SAS or Neither? SSD’s Get A Third Option

I recently wrote about solid state storage and its different form factor. Well, several major manufacturers have realized that solid state needs all the bandwidth it can get. Dell, IBM, EMC, Fujitsu and Intel have formed the SSD Form Factor Working Group bringing PCIe 3 to the same form factor that SATA and SAS use. Focusing on the same connector types and a 2.5” dive housing. I’m not sure how quickly it will make it’s way into the enterprise space but that is clearly it’s target. Reusing the physical form factor cuts down on manufacturing and R&D costs for all involved. They have an aggressive time scale for something like this. The specification hasn’t been published yet and I’ll take a deeper look into it when it becomes available. There are some key players missing though. HP and Seagate being the two in the enterprise space that give me pause. Both control a large segment of the storage space. On the controller side LSI is also absent. This could be a direct threat to their current market domination of the RAID controller chipset space if they aren’t on the ball.

Fusion-io got that early on and took a different route sticking with just PCIe to bypass the limitations of SAS/SATA and intermediate controllers. By going that route they opened up a whole other level of performance.

I asked David Flynn what he thought about the new standard. Fusion-io is a contributor to the working group.

It is quite validating that folks would be routing PCIe to the drive bays.  For us it’s just another form factor that

we can easily support it.

Two things, though…  First is that I believe it’s a hangover from the mechanical drive era to put such emphasis on form factors that allow easy servicing access.  Solid state should not need to be serviced.  It should be much more reliable than HDD’s.  But, outside of Fusion-io failure rates for solid state is actually much worse than for mechanical disk drives.

The second point is that form-factor and even PCIe attachment isn’t really the key thing to higher performing, more reliable solid state.  What makes the real difference is eliminating the embedded CPU bottleneck in the access path to the flash.

Fusion-io uses a memory controller approach to integrating flash.  You don’t find CPU’s on  DRAM modules.  SSD’s (SATA or PCIe) from everyone else use embedded CPU’s and attach using storage controller methodologies.

In an upcoming post on my solid state storage series I will explore failure rates in detail. I do find it interesting that Fusion-io is one of the very few companies that have significantly higher error detection rates than a standard hard drive or other SSD’s, even enterprise branded SSD’s. Fusion-io claims 10^20 uncorrectable detectable error rate and 10^30 uncorrectable undetectable error rate. I have yet to see any hard disk or SSD with a rate better than 10^17. So, I agree with David about actually needing a form factor for ease of service if you build the device with enough error correction, which clearly you can with solid state.

Fusion-io, What It Takes To Be On The Cutting Edge


I recently had the privilege to talk with David Flynn, former CTO, Founder and newly minted CEO about Fusion-io. How Fusion-io was born. What they have built and the future of the company. Fusion-io is a new comer to the enterprise storage space and has exited the gates in a flash. In the last two years they have shown up with some impressive hardware, managed to draw Steve Wozniak into the fold and show some explosive growth, touting IBM, DELL and HP as adopters of the ioDrive.

Fusion-io is in its 4th year now, employing around 250 people. The first two years they were in design and build mode. On their first year of revenue Fusion-io did well into the double digit millions. They recently closed out their second year of sales at over 500% growth.

Wes Brown – “How did Fusion-io and the ioDrive come about?”

David Flynn – “The product is something that came out of a hybrid of my work building large scale, high performance computing systems, at one point we had three of the fastest computers in the world, based on Linux commodity clustering. During that time, this was early 2000, I recognized that memory was the single most expensive part of these super computers. It was around that same time the DRAM density growth stalled, missed a whole cycle, and has been growing at a much slower rate since then. Memory kind of reached power density limit, You can lithograph a smaller transistor but you can’t cool them. Memory reached a capacity density barrier due to the thermal limitations. Next, I went to another company and met Rick White co-founder of Fusion-io. We went and built a tiny security device that ran Linux on a tiny CPU. The curious thing about this device was we were using a new kind of memory for the storage, NAND flash. It was the darndest thing that this little CPU and system running Linux actually felt faster in many ways than these big super computers. It boiled down to the storage being on NAND flash, the idea for Fusion-io came out of that combination, and a realization that NAND flash as a new type of memory could offset memory and solve the problem of RAM density growth. So, while everybody else is thinking of NAND flash as a way of building faster disk drives, we said lets integrate NAND flash where it’s so fast it can offset the need for putting in large capacity memory, so not a faster disk drive but a higher density, higher capacity memory device.”

WB – “Why did you and Rick wait so long to bring these ideas to market?”

DF – “In 2006 Fusion-io was born. It wasn’t possible until that time frame. DRAM was the density king and the price king. You could get higher performance and capacity than you could from NAND flash before then.”

WB – “You have had several rounds of venture capital funding, is Fusion-io planning on another round or is the cash and sales pipeline good enough?”

DF – “We don’t expect to have to raise another round of financing.”

David and I talked about the role of CEO at Fusion-io and the previous people to hold that post. I was curious why a co-founder and very technical guy would assume the mantle of CEO at this point.

Don Basile, first CEO at Fusion-io, led them through their A and B series funding rounds and went on to become CEO at Violin Memory Systems. This left a vacuum and David Bradford was promoted from within to fill that role, bringing in Steve Wozniak as Chief Scientist. He has also overseen the phenomenal growth during this last year. David was recommended by Bradford after a stint as CTO and managing quite a bit of the day to day operations at the company. David went on to say that Marc Andreessen, who is now an investor through Andreessen Horowitz, was one of the tipping points that lead him to the CEO chair. David pointed out that part of Marc’s model for their investment is backing founder-CEO’s for various reasons, he believes they have the moral authority and know where all the moving parts are and are generally very good taking that role.

We then talked about what was coming down the product pipeline from Fusion-io.

WB – “Last year double density was promised but delayed, what was the hold up in expanding the product line beyond the ioDrive Duo?”

DF – “It would have to be limited resources in the company; we were just overwhelmed with growing the company. We are at 250+ people today, this time last year we were at 70 people. We have made a large investment engaging OEM’s like IBM and HP and partners like Dell. ”

WB -“So, how did Fusion-io get these major OEM’s to include Fusion-io in their server line?”

DF – “This is a good way to put it, Performance was the way to get people’s attention, capacity is a good thing. But what seals the deal and makes it an enterprise product isn’t the performance, or capacity, it is reliability of the product. That it doesn’t corrupt your data, it doesn’t fail and lose the data and doesn’t wear out too quickly, That is what allowed us to win the major OEM relationships.”

WB -“Fusion-io did a big test with the Octal at the end of last year, is this something that will see the light of day as a product?”

DF – “The ioDrive Octal is set to go into general production and availability soon. Last year we announced it as a science project because it was custom built for some specific applications, but we have decided to productize it. It will have five Terabytes of capacity, one million IOP’s and the equivalent bandwidth of sixteen FC4 ports.”

There is no pricing available on the ioDrive Octal, The new high density ioDrive or ioDrive Duo yet. There are servers on the market that are rated to handle up to four cards in a single server. If you need capacity and speed, I can’t imagine a better way to get it.

WB – “Is Fusion-io planning to go public?”

DF – “We’ve been building a company to be a self standing company. We believe our go to market strategy sales force direct enterprise along side with OEM’s, we do direct sales but fulfill through OEM’s.”

DF – “We view ourselves, just to give you the simplest way to describe what Fusion-io is, we are to flash chips what EMC is to disk drives. We aggregate flash chips to build infrastructure usable and valuable to enterprise customers, because they are flash chips it allows us to miniaturize it and go inside the box instead in a whole rack of boxes. We are building a new subsystem not a memory subsystem in the traditional since and not a storage subsystem, but a fusion of the two. It is deployed through an OEM strategy because it does have to be in the box to offer the best density metrics. At the end of the day our value is to take the cheapest flash chips and make it into the highest value infrastructure for folks to build on. That’s not just performance or capacity density it’s also the reliability and manageability of it. ”

WB – “With that said, is Fusion-io planning an IPO or not?”

– laughter from David and I-

DF -“We are here to build a successful company and won’t speculate about an IPO at this time.”

In our second part of the interview David gets deep down and technical about the ioDrive, what it is and isn’t and how the magic is made.