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New Start-Up FlashSoft Secures $3 Million First Round

In SSD caching software
This is a Press Release edited by StorageNewsletter.com on 2011.07.01

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FlashSoft Corporation announced of its Series A funding of $3 million, led by Thomvest Ventures, and the introduction of a commercial offering of software to enable enterprise flash as a cost-effective, server-tier computing resource.

The company's product, called FlashSoft SE, is available and is being used in business-critical production environments by several customers. FlashSoft SE is available for free evaluation through a 30-day Try Before You Buy program.

Flash technology has gained traction in enterprise computing due to its ability to reduce I/O latency, and to increase scalability and performance for databases, enterprise applications and virtualization environments. The analyst firm Objective Analysis has forecast that shipments of enterprise SSDs will grow to 4 million units by 2015, more than 50 times the number shipped in 2010.

Despite the performance advantages of flash SSD, two barriers have inhibited its adoption in the enterprise. First, when used as primary data storage, flash memory cannot easily integrate with and leverage the benefits of existing storage systems infrastructure. Secondly, storing all of an application's data on server-attached flash memory remains expensive.

FlashSoft SE is an all-software 'tier minus one' solution for Flash Virtualization. Enterprise IT can now provide databases, applications and virtual machine environments with the performance benefit of having the entire data set on flash, with only a fraction of the data actually stored in flash. This innovation makes enterprise flash a cost-effective performance solution that works with existing storage infrastructure. In fact, FlashSoft actually reduces the IO burden on storage, producing greater cost savings. FlashSoft's technology is designed to deliver flash-grade performance within a standalone server, across server clusters, and throughout the data center.

Early Customers
Mobile device management solutions provider Zenprise exceeded its expectations by increasing performance 10x with a FlashSoft-based cache. "Performance is our key issue, and we've established without a doubt that IO - not CPU - is the key bottleneck we need to address. Most of the work-arounds we have considered don't directly address the IO bottleneck as effectively as FlashSoft does," explained Jay Gausch, manager of customer relations at Zenprise. "And FlashSoft is not only more effective, it's more economical. By using FlashSoft, we aren't buying new server hardware or licensing additional server software. We're simply making our existing servers and software run at their full potential."

FlashSoft customer Trion Worlds, publisher and developer of connected video games, began using FlashSoft with PCIe SSDs to eliminate reporting delays from a critical business intelligence system. "People know us as a premier connected gaming company, but inside we're a high-performance, data-driven operation," said Brent Meshier, manager of IT operations. "FlashSoft enables us to apply enterprise flash easily and economically to maximize performance for essential business analytics operations."

The FlashSoft Community

"Flash memory has arrived in the enterprise, and it is destined to drive revolutionary changes in enterprise computing," said Ted Sanford, CEO of FlashSoft. "We will build momentum by working with our customers and partners with openness and transparency. We are bringing together a community of SSD vendors, software platform providers, systems integrators, VARs, and end user customers in a common forum to share experiences and get answers."

In conjunction with its funding announcement, FlashSoft announced that it is collaborating with firms including VMware, Microsoft, SanDisk Enterprise Storage Solutions, Virident Systems, LSI, OCZ Technology, and systems provider AMAX. These relationships will help FlashSoft integrate its software more closely with complementary hardware and software products, and provide customers with solutions for their specific requirements.

FlashSoft was founded by a team with decades of experience at companies including Veritas Software, Oracle and Symantec. Managing Director Don Butler of Thomvest Ventures will join the FlashSoft board of directors.

"Thomvest consistently seeks innovators whose vision is to disrupt the status quo," said Butler. "FlashSoft changes the dynamics of the industry, both in its Flash Virtualization technology and its open, straightforward business model."

In addition to Thomvest Ventures, early-stage investors Divergent Ventures, Bullpen Capital and Accelerator Ventures are participating in the company's first venture capital investment.

FlashSoft SE Technology Advantages
FlashSoft SE is a software solution that automatically identifies and caches the most frequently used data - hot data - on any SSD in the server. This capability, called Active Data Management, enables flash SSD to be applied to the computing operations in which it can provide benefit, eliminating I/O latency that holds back application and virtualization scale and performance.

In a recent performance test, a standard OLTP test suite on MS-SQL Server ran 4X faster with a FlashSoft-enabled cache on enterprise flash drives than on the baseline HDD storage array.

The FlashSoft solution offers technical advantages including:

  • Provides a persistent read-write cache in the compute tier
  • Compatible with any SSD: SATA, SAS or PCIe
  • Requires no modifications to data, applications or storage; the SSD-based cache is transparent to the server and storage infrastructure
  • Automatically tunes over 60 operational parameters to support specific SSD architectures and application types
  • Cluster-aware cache design supports shared-nothing and shared-storage environments, including virtual server environments
  • Minimal server overhead; optimized metadata management and cache design enable 100MB of server memory to manage 1TB of flash.

FlashSoft SE for Windows Server is available for evaluation and purchase. Pricing is based on the number of servers accelerated and types of SSDs employed. FlashSoft SE for Linux is currently in beta testing.

To read Zenprise's story

Our Comments

SSD caching software is a new trend in the storage industry to accelerate I/Os with SSDs.

Of course, the quality of the controller is a key element for access and transfer times to the host. But here it's also possible to enhance the speed and to reduce the global price of the complete storage system using only one (or a few) SSD being considered as cache the HDD array.

The new idea is a software - or a firmware directly into a controller - enabling to identify the highest priority read and write data, storing them in a tiered architecture: directly on the fast flash unit and later on the disk array for write operations, and on the other way for reading. All the secret is in the algorithms used to extract these priority data.

We have discovered at least four start-ups implicated in this new kind of software: FlashSoft, IO Turbine, Nvelo and VeloBit (see below).

Adaptec also introduced maxCache SSD caching software, a patent-pending Learned-Path Algorithm that identifies frequently-read data, and optimizes 'reads' by copying this data directly into an SSD cache pool for faster retrieval of future requests. maxCache also updates 'hot' cached data on subsequent writes to the same blocks to maximize storage efficiency. Because this is done at the controller level, these processes are transparent and do not require any changes to storage architectures, application software or operating systems.

Seagate's hybrid drives also use flash caching in its HDD controller, but only to read data. 

IO Turbine
When installed on VMware servers, its product Accelio transparently identifies the highest priority data and offloads IO/s from primary storage to flash, delivering performance directly to designated virtual machines.

Nvelo
This company born in 2010 received $6.5 million in investment. Its software Dataplex continuously performs real-time analysis on the way you are using your applications and data, and automatically keeps those files ready on the SSD for better performance.

VeloBit
In beta, its software works in front of an SSD used like a cache being connected to any internal or external primary storage devices, RAID or not, with HDDs or SSDs.

FlashSoft
Founded in 2009 FlashSoft is based in Mountain View, CA. Among its executives there are;
  • CEO and co-founder Ted Sanford, former CEO of Baccel and notably VP strategic alliances at AppStream (acquired by Symantec), and
  • CTO and co-founder Serge Shats, also previously at Baccel after working for Veritas and Quantum.
This start-up provides a software, FlashSoft SE, employing any SATA, SAS or PCIe SSD to accelerate the performance of applications on servers. The Windows Server 2008 R2 version is available and the Linux one is supposed to be launch for evaluation in Summer 2011. It required about 100MB of system memory, allocated among metadata (balanced tree and cache of metadata) (default size: 60MB), intermediate read cache buffers (16MB), flush buffers (16MB) and a driver (180KB).

flashsoft_540

FlashSoft SE is designed specifically for the SSD architecture and is different from a traditional buffer cache design, using the SSD as a large circular buffer, writing to it in blocks of varying size, together with their associated metadata. This design minimizes the amount of metadata required and reduces data fragmentation in the SSD.

"Running traditional enterprise applications like Microsoft Exchange, MS-SQL and virtual machines under Hyper-V, FlashSoft typically increases performance between 2x and 10x. At the same time, the number of concurrent users and/or operations may be doubled or tripled," said the company that adds:" In running enterprise Windows applications like Microsoft Exchange and MS-SQL we have observed 3% to 4% of CPU utilization by FlashSoft, running on a standard enterprise-quality server."

The total storage size that can be used for the cache is up to 256GB in the current v1.1.0. The maximum storage size will be 1TB in v2.0.

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