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Monday, March 4, 2013

Big Data Done Cheap

Some new product impress for what they says about the future. Win or lose, they show where the world is going with near certainty.

In this case, the product is Big Data computing at near consumer prices.

Violin Memory is an eight year-old company that makes large-scale data storage systems for computer centers. Its boxes fetch information uncommonly fast. Now, the company is going downmarket, with data storage for individual computer servers. These data cards create powerful machines that can do sophisticated work, at less than one-tenth the current costs of storage.

If the product works, ordinary servers costing a few thousand dollars might be deployed for sophisticated data analysis, genetic research, logistics management, or other activities that are currently done on multimillion-dollar racks of computers. It could make possible much cheaper real-time computing projects at companies and schools, bringing in more customers and experimentation.

“Radical economics is the only wa to break the way things are done,” said Don Basile, the chief executive of Violin Memory. “This is like having array storage, the stuff in data centers, in the palm of your hand.”

Besides being cheaper and more capacious than any comparable storage inside a server, he said, the cards can supposedly and can fetch and store data 25,000 times faster than conventional disc drive storage.

A typical server has eight gigabytes of memory for reaching data quickly, plus more stored in a 500 gigabyte hard drive. The Violin Memory data cards, produced in conjunction with Toshiba, offer 1.4 terabytes in “flash” memory, which can be accessed quickly. Cards for higher-end servers hold up to 11 terabytes.

This so-called in-memory computing matters, because otherwise machines take too much time fetching data back and forth. In-memory, however, is now mostly on expensive machines; an Oracle’s Exadata product can cost over $1 million for storage and computing, plus monthly service charge! s running tens of thousands of dollars.

The low-end Violin Memory card has a list price of $4,000, and is meant for a server costing even less than that. The bigger card, for the kind of server that costs $5000 or more, lists for about $60,000. In the real world, both cards are likely to be heavily discounted. There are a couple of other models in between the two cards.

The secret to doing this new style of server memory is a clever use of commercial-grade flash memory, the kind of stuff that stores the pictures in digital cameras.

Violin Memory uses a board full of these consumer chips, coordinated by its own specially-built silicon. The company’s odd name is a reference to that orchestration.

“The explosion of data analytics gives us an opportunity in this market,” said Mr. Basile. “Over the next several years, every server will have in-memory computing.”

Toshiba, which is also an investor in Violin Memory, may sell the product to other server makers as well as puttng it in its own brand of servers. Violin Memory has its own sales force, albeit a small one.

Even without this particular innovation, flash memory has become better and cheaper thanks not just to cameras and big commercial systems, but the explosion of smartphones and tablets, which also use the stuff.