Fusion-io: Spinning disk drives here to stay, but not as primary storage

NAND-based flash memory as primary storage may be taking over the enterprise sector, but traditional disk drives will still be relevant in the future, according to Fusion-io CEO David Flynn and the company's chief scientist Steve Wozniak.

While high density NAND flash memory will be the future for enterprise servers, traditional disk drives will still have a role to play, according to Fusion-io.

Fusion-io CEO David Flynn and the company's chief scientist Steve Wozniak were speaking in Sydney on Monday at a company event. Wozniak is also the co-founder of Apple .

David Flynn and Steve Wozniak
David Flynn and Steve Wozniak. (Credit: ZDNet/Spandas Lui)


Driven by consumer electronics, the efficiency of flash-based memory has vastly improved. Most solid-state drives (SSDs) these days use NAND-based flash memory, a technology Fusion-io specialises in.

But the company takes a different approach to NAND flash. Rather incorporating it as a standalone data storage drive, Fusion-io treats it as memory. NAND flash actually has 100 times the density of DRAM, according to the company.

So what does this mean for traditional mechanical disk drives, which are still being used in enterprise servers?

While Wozniak sees NAND flash as the future for the enterprise sector, he believes spinning disk drives still have a place in an IT environment, as it provides backup at a lower cost.

"You can still use disk drives for low speed archival storage, not the stuff the enterprise datacentres need," he said.

Wozniak predicts that in the future every server will have NAND flash storage. A number of IT companies, including Cisco, NetApp, and HP, are already OEM partners of Fusion-io.

"Fusion-io came up with this method, which has set the tone for the world," Wozniak said.

Flynn agreed that disk drives will be around for some time yet.

"The thing is, if you improve the efficiency of processing data, it means there are more places for people to use that, and more data will be generated," he said. "While disks will be shoved more towards online archival versus primary storage, the quantity of data is only going to accelerate, and that's only going to be good business for disk drive makers."

By treating NAND flash as a memory and placing it closer to the CPU, it facilitates faster data processing within a server. For example, the vendor claims that its ioDrive can outperform dozens of SSDs on a single server.

This has massive gains for datacentre efficiency, and will have positive impact for companies dealing with Big Data, according to Fusion-io.

The company counts Apple and Facebook as some of its biggest clients.

Woolworths and Westpac takes advantage of NAND flash

Both supermarket giant Woolworths and local bank Westpac are users of Fusion-io.

Woolworths has used Fusion-io's NAND flash products for analytics work. It used to take the supermarket chain 17 hours to produce sales analytics data reports for its Monday morning executive meeting, which meant that the reports would be missing data on weekend sale of products.

"With Fusion-io memory in its analytics system, Woolworths was able to move that down from 17 hours to 3 hours," Flynn said. "It could run it at the wee hours of the morning before the staff meeting, and get the data it needed to focus and improve its business."

Similarly, Westpac uses Fusion-io memory in its analytics system, specifically for risk analytics. Data processing has since dropped from 3 hours to 20 minutes.

"They were able to incorporate a much richer set of information doing that business intelligence analytics, and were able to do away with hundreds of mechanical disk drives," Flynn said."