FlashSoft Tackles I/O Bottleneck on Server Side

As enterprises continue their march toward virtualization of the data center, many are struggling with a disconnect between their servers and storage.

Startup firm's software makes enterprise flash available as a server-tier computing resource.

It's a problem of latency, which FlashSoft and many others describe as an I/O bottleneck.

FlashSoft, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, is touting novel software that enables solid state drives (SSDs)or PCI express flash to operate as a high-performance memory cache within the server, without altering the server's applications or operating system.

"More than CPU performance or memory capability, the input-output between server and storage is often the greatest impediment to key server applications -- including database-driven enterprise applications, virtual machine environments, big data, real-time analytics, etc.," said Ted Sanford, FlashSoft's founder and CEO. "Many different storage solutions have been developed to improve performance from the storage side of this I/O bottleneck, but except for the very costly approach of putting an entire data set on direct-attached flash storage in the server, there haven't been many good options for eliminating I/O latency from the server side."

Billing itself as the "flash virtualization company," FlashSoft went public with the details of its first major round of venture financing June 28, announcing $3 million of Series A funding led by Thomvest Ventures. That followed a $600,000 round of seed funding for the company's founding in 2009.

FlashSoft is aiming to capitalize on the increasing use of flash in the enterprise for its ability to curb latency. The company points to a forecast from Objective Analysis projecting that shipments of enterprise SSDs will reach 4 million units in 2015, a more than 50-fold increase from 2010.

At the same time, FlashSoft aims to accelerate the transition to enterprise flash by addressing the key barriers to adoption, particularly price.

The flagship product, FlashSoft SE, is touted as the first cost-effective, enterprise-class software offering to deliver flash as a server-tier computing resource. Instead of the pricier approach of placing all of an application's data on flash, FlashSoft identifies and caches only the most frequently used, "hot" data on the server, making it available in either in read-write or read-only mode. The automatic selection and caching of the critical portion of the data in an application is FlashSoft's central innovation, a technology it dubs Active Data Management.

"This makes server-tier flash a practical, cost-effective means of eliminating I/O latency, to increase performance and scalability of applications, databases and virtual machine environments," Sanford said. "What's more, it actually removes much of the I/O burden on underlying storage, reducing the need for expensive storage solutions."

Sanford acknowledged that his company's server-based approach to flash storage is a major departure for many enterprises, which can present a challenge as FlashSoft aims to win over new clients.

"Flash as a cache in the server is a significant architectural change for most organizations," Sanford said. "While almost any organization can benefit from a server-tier SSD cache, not every IT group is used to opening their boxes and testing the combination of SSD hardware and caching software."

FlashSoft's business is built around a direct licensing model for its software, offering prospective customers a 30-day free trial. The company currently partners with SSD vendors to deliver its solutions, but it is also exploring partnerships with systems vendors and opening VAR and system integrators channels.

At present, FlashSoft SE works in only a Windows environment, but Sanford noted that the core caching technology is "platform neutral." The company is planning to port to Linux and VMware's ESX hypervisor and potentially other environments. Additionally, FlashSoft is planning to expand beyond its initial offering, which runs in a stand-alone server environment, to one that can handle a distributed cache over server clusters.

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.

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This article was originally published on Jul 5, 2011
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