AWS launches EBS io2 volumes on Block Express, aims for SAN market

Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec, vice president of storage at AWS, said EBS io2 Block Express illustrates how the company sees the evolution of storage and the cloud.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Amazon Web Services is making good on its effort to simplify block storage with the general availability of its Amazon EBS io2 Block Express volumes, which is essentially a cloud storage area network.

The cloud giant's Amazon EBS io2 Block Express effort, previewed at re:Invent 2020, is part of a bigger theme to make mission critical storage and database migrations easier. The launch is also an example of AWS' innovation cadence, which relies on giving customers what they ask for with a dash of products they didn't know they needed but solves problems.

Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec, vice president of storage at AWS, said EBS io2 Block Express illustrates how the company sees the evolution of storage and the cloud. Roughly speaking, 90% of the AWS roadmap comes from what customers ask for. The remaining 10% of the roadmap derives from problems customers are trying to solve. "Customers tell us about a problem they have and what they want to do," said Bukovec. "We go down to the studs of common concepts of technology and build from scratch."

EBS io2 Block Express was a response to problems customers were having with SANs and being locked into legacy architecture and infrastructure, she said. Lambda and Graviton are other examples of products that were created to solve customer struggles. EBS io2 Block Express is a storage server architecture that is aiming to one-up storage area networks (SANs). With io2 volumes on Block Express, customers can get sub-millisecond latency and provision an io2 volume with up to 256,000 IOPs, 4,000 MB/second throughput and 64TB of capacity.

Bukovec said AWS was looking beyond raw performance to architecture that would evolve and scale without the need to migrate to something new. IDC estimates that enterprises will spend $22.4 billion on SANs in 2021.

Io2 Block Express volumes are designed for Oracle databases, SAP HANA, Microsoft SQL Server and SAS Analytics. The AWS pitch is that customers pay for storage capacity used without the upfront investment. In addition, io2 Block Express gives AWS the ability to move into more mission critical workloads.

Reference customers include Amway, which is using io2 Block Express to run an Oracle database-based application for peak processing windows. The application is currently running on dedicated compute, network and VMAX storage. Okta is another reference customer running MySQL as the backend storage for its applications and microservices. Okta is using io2 Block Express to add throughput and storage on the fly without complicating its architecture. Epic, the electronic health company, is also using the service. 

AWS said io2 Block Express was launched because enterprises wanted 99.999% availability and more performance. Customers were often stringing together multiple io2 volumes, but ultimately created a management headache. Mission critical applications often leveraged on-premises SANs but required more investment upfront to build capacity for forecasting.

The architecture behind io2 Block Express decouples compute, storage and networking to bolster performance. AWS also revamped the underlying Elastic Block Store hardware, software and networking stacks.

For instance:

  • Block Express leverages the Scalable Reliable Datagrams networking protocol to reduce latency. This protocol enables AWS to leverage its Nitro network card and scale out network paths and manage packets over a distributed network.
  • AWS manages the storage and can match or beat the performance of SAN storage products at half the cost.
  • EBS io2 Block Express volumes have SAN features such as Multi-Attach and Elastic Volumes with additional features landing in the months to come.

AWS said that io2 Block Express volumes are available with R5b instances in all regions where offered. R5b instances have the highest EBS bandwidth.  

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