Violin and Microsoft Team for Windows Flash Array

By Pedro Hernandez

Violin Memory, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based maker of enterprise flash-based storage arrays, today announced that the company has begun shipments of Windows Flash Array (WFA), a new product that was co-developed with Microsoft.

Windows Flash Array is a first in many respects, according to Violin Memory CMO Eric Herzog. Microsoft and his company went about "literally embedding a copy of Windows Server 2012 R2 into an array," he told InfoStor.

And it's the first time Microsoft has collaborated with any enterprise data storage provider in this capacity. "We're the only storage vendor they've done it with yet, so far," he added.

Violin and Microsoft each contributed some know-how and a fair amount of code to extend support for SMB Direct and RDMA. The result is a hefty reduction in server overhead and arrays with filer capabilities, enabling them to pull double duty as a NAS.

"Instead of focusing on storage, the servers can focus on apps," said Herzog, adding that businesses can achieve a "30 percent CPU offload improvement."

Aimed at enterprise and cloud workloads, including SQL Server, SharePoint and Windows Server with Hyper-V virtualized applications, the 3U device ships with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 embedded on two clustered blade servers nestled alongside the flash array and RDMA network interface card. Violin's Windows Flash Array ships with built-in data deduplication, thin provisioning, compression, mirroring and live migration.

The software and hardware combo that adds up to big performance gains, among other benefits. The storage system can shuttle data at up to 1 million 4K IOPS with latencies in the microsecond range. Hyper-V writes zipped by at 1.4x faster. The company boasted that in early customer tests, "the WFA delivered up to two times the write performance and up to 50 percent higher read performance, compared to an industry standard all-flash array connected via Fibre Channel."

In addition, the array fits seamlessly into Microsoft's systems management platform, making its monitoring and upkeep a non-issue for administrators that are well-versed on the software giant's IT toolset. Violin estimates that the hardware can help organizations reduce operating expenditures (OPEX) by up to 80 percent.

WFA arrives during a period of brisk enterprise adoption for Microsoft's server and business software products, according to Bill Laing, a Microsoft corporate vice president. "By jointly developing this highly integrated solution with Violin Memory, we are working together to provide enterprise and cloud customers with dramatically improved performance, scalability, and economics for their Windows applications - virtualized, physical and cloud," he said in a statement.

Brian Garrett, vice president of ESG Research, said in prepared remarks that his group was "blown away" by the combination of the software defined storage capabilities included in Microsoft Windows Server 2012 and Violin Memory's flash arrays. "This unique partnership has created a one of a kind solution that dramatically increases the performance and efficiency of business critical application workloads like Microsoft SQL Server and VDI," he added.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InfoStor. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

This article was originally published on April 22, 2014