EMC’s Comeback in Server-Side Memory: Q&A with Pat Gelsinger

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even greater, thanks to proximity to the CPU. Gelsinger says the VFCache devices bring about an “order of magnitude” improvement in server performance.

The team behind Lightning is already working on a sequel called, naturally, Thunder. EMC gave a sneak peek of the technology at the press event: it’s a network appliance that combines several VFCache cards to further improve communications speeds between servers and storage arrays.

My interview with Gelsinger, which is included in edited form below, also hit on questions about EMC’s big-picture vision of its role in enterprise computing, efforts to integrate recent EMC acquisitions like San Mateo, CA-based Greenplum and Seattle-based Isilon Systems, and the company’s relations with the venture and startup communities. I spoke with Gelsinger shortly after the company’s glitzy VFCache launch event, which attracted about 50 media, analysts, and bloggers and about 3,000 live webcast viewers on EMC’s website. (You can catch a full replay here.) The company played the Flash theme to the hilt, even appropriating the Queen theme song from the 1980 film Flash Gordon for a tongue-in-cheek “Cache Gordon” video that likely left Freddie Mercury rolling in his grave.

Xconomy: EMC was first to market with Flash-based enterprise storage products, but Fusion-IO grabbed the lead in this new market for Flash-based memory cache products in servers. How did that happen? Does today’s announcement represent EMC’s effort to catch up?

Pat Gelsinger: With Flash in the enterprise, EMC was the leader, is the leader, and we’re pretty committed to continuing to be the leader, period. In the segment of putting Flash in the server, Fusion-IO was the first. In that subcategory, they were first. I respect that leadership. We should have done that sooner. In that sense, we are playing catch-up, for that sub-segment.

But we’re the market leader overall. A big company like EMC is not going to lead in every particular area of innovation. For us it’s very much about the whole set of innovations. And as we went and talked to our customer, what we found in this subcategory of server Flash was that they were compelled by the performance characteristics of Fusion-IO but dissatisfied by its inability to fit into the overall storage hierarchy. It didn’t have protection. It wasn’t part of the same management environment. It was this island of Flash that wasn’t persistent with the rest of their storage investment. And in that, we saw the opportunity.

We have some of our cultural views. We look at the world very much through the lens of a storage array. We did have to sort of leap outside that and say, no, it’s about storage anywhere in the hierarchy, whether it’s on the server side or what. So that was breaking a bit of glass internally. We can be on the other side of the wire. As we did that, we said hey, we can extend our FAST [Fully Automated Storage Tiering] technology to the server. We crossed that bridge from enterprise storage arrays to a broad use of storage with the FAST technology, and we found we could really popularize or mainstream the use of Flash in the server with the extension of that technology base. That’s very much what the story is about.

There are lots of tech startups in this space. Flash is a very disruptive technology, with 1,000x to 4,000x kind of improvements possible. Lots of companies will try to innovate with that. But today EMC is unquestionably the leader in terms of delivering enterprise Flash. The 24 petabytes we have delivered, we believe that is greater than the sum of everyone else put together. Our overall share of the market in storage is 30 percent, and we are 60 or 70 percent of all enterprise Flash. So we are just way ahead of the market in that sense. We think with today’s announcement, we have … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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