TORONTO — It wasn't long ago that flash storage was reserved for high-demand data only. Now all-flash array adoption is not only outpacing hybrid arrays, but those with NVMe look to be rapidly hitting the mainstream.

Tegile Systems is putting its stake in the ground with what it said is the first unified all-NVMe array on the market with its IntelliFlash N-series. However, the company is also giving customers the flexibility to dial up or dial down the amount of flash they want to use over the life off array. Rob Commins, Tegile's vice president of marketing, told EE Times in a telephone interview that the new storage platform can take the form of an all NVMe flash array, use multiple grades of flash or a hybrid array with spinning disk. Tegile's management algorithm will absorb what's available to balance the density.

He said the N-5000 series is a “memory-class storage array" and comes with an extensive set of data management services, including deduplication and compression for data reduction, encrypted data at rest, and complete data protection with snaps, clones and replication. The N5000 Series comes in two flavors to start: the N5200 can deliver between 23 to 46 RAW TB, with 24 dual-ported PCIe SSDs and one 1 DWPD drives, front-ended by 448 GB DDR4 and 16 GB NVDIMM per system. Meanwhile, the N5800 boasts 76 to 153 RAW TB with 24 dual-ported PCIe SSDs and three DWPD drives accompanied by 3 TB DDR4 and 32 GB NVDIMM per system.

Commins said Tegile is taking a three-phase approach to implementing NVMe. “As the technology develops, we will put an embedded NVMe fabric in there that allows us to expand the pool of NVMe," he said. As the NVMe ecosystem matures over the next year-and-a-half to two years, he said, Tegile will expose NVMe at the front end into full memory / flash fabric that hosts can natively connect to over a 40Gb fabric.

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Tegile's broader strategy has been to offer a level of modularity to its arrays so customers aren't always having to do forklift upgrades. They can swap drives out over the life of the array, as well as controllers. In May, Tegile expanded its Lifetime Storage program to now include the Lifetime Storage Controller Refresh Program so customers can refresh their storage array controllers every three to five years as part of their maintenance contract and without replacing the entire array.

Commins said that over the past two years new crops of vendors have built NVMe storage platforms as well as incumbent vendors. “It's going to be a race between us with a full suite of data management software getting into NVMe against NMVe hardware vendors who need to build software," he said.

With only a 20 percent premium on NVMe SSDs, he said, the protocol will quickly become the defacto standard. “It's going to flip pretty fast," he said.

Eric Burgener, IDC's research director for storage, said the research firm is forecasting more revenue for NVMe SSDs than any other interface in 2020, and that by then it will have replaced SCSI. “The trend we've seen with all-flash array vendors is a rush to put a stake in the ground as to what they are doing with NVMe," he said.

IDC has segmented the market in three categories: primary storage, big data, and rack scale flash. The latter includes vendors such as E8, which recently announced how it was taking advantage of dual ports to share NVMe SSDs in the same enclosure. “Most major enterprise storage players pretty far along, even if they've not made public announcements," Burgener said.

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Burgener said vendors are taking two different approaches to NVMe in their arrays. One is to add it piecemeal with a roadmap for customers that allows them to integrate NVMe devices followed by controllers and then fabric to the host. The other is to ship a complete NVMe system right away. “Most enterprise workloads don't need this this kind of capability yet," he said, “but some of the vendors are going to be providing it. By and large it's positioning the platform for future growth. It gives customers a warm fuzzy that their vendor is on the leading edge."

There will be combination of things that drive the need NVMe, including real-time big data analytics, said Burgener, which today is generally only something undertaken by large enterprises with custom applications for that specific vertical. “But we see real-time big data analytics becoming a mainstream type of workload over the course of the next three years," Burgener said. More broadly, there's going to be more value in the storage appliances in terms of NVMe technology over the next few years.

Tegile started as a hybrid flash array vendor, and started to shift to all-flash in late 2015, said Burgener, while continuing to make the hybrid arrays available. One of its key differentiators is a common software operating environment that runs across both of those platforms. “That OS knows what media its talking to and takes the appropriate IO path," he said. “They implemented this in a very intelligent manner." This makes it possible to easily replicate data across hybrid arrays, SCSI all-flash arrays and NVMe all-flash arrays. “That provides a lot of flexibility," he added.

Tegile has previously used SanDisk's InfiniFlash in its arrays but is now using commodity SSDs, Burgener noted, as the company sees them as having caught up to custom flash and provides multi-sourcing options that can help it drive down costs. InfiniFlash was appealing when it launched because of the density — you couldn't get 8TB SSDs. “Density doesn't seem to a reason these days to go with a custom design," he said.