TORONTO — OCZ Storage Solutions, having settled in as a Toshiba-owned company after its acquisition at the beginning of the year, has updated its ZD-XL SQL Accelerator to support the latest version of Microsoft SQL Server.
Michael Yam, OCZ's director of business development, told us the ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5 builds on the features of its predecessor, which was launched a year ago. The new version supports a full range of SQL Server 2014 features, said including flash Buffer Pool Extension support, so that database pages can be accessed faster by loading them directly from flash.
A unique feature of the ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5 is the ability to partition flash as a cache or a volume as required based on workloads, Yam said. The ZD-XL SQL Accelerator architecture allows for low-latency flash to be deployed as local flash volumes, a flash cache for HDD volumes, or a combination of both. Partitioning flash resources between local volumes and cache enables tempDB files to take advantage of the media's flash performance while "hot" data can be cached from larger databases for immediate SQL server availability.
OCZ has focused on making its ZD-XL SQL Accelerator easy for database administrators (DBAs) to configure without requiring any storage expertise by deeply integrating it with SQL Server, enabling them to manage the system using wizards, he said. This integration also supports acceleration at a per-database level, rather than having to accelerate all the database files on disk. DBAs can select only those files that need to be accelerated.
Other features added to the ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5 include support for running SQL in a virtualized environment through VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V, so flash resources can support multiple virtual machines running SQL Server workloads concurrently. The update also adds remote flash services to allow SQL Server to run on blade servers, so they can benefit from the high performance and density of PCIe flash storage. In addition, a connection can be set up over the network between SQL Server and the PCIe flash resource to deliver remote flash caching.
Gregory Wong, principal analyst with Forward Insights, told us the partitioning feature enables more efficient use of flash. "It allows you to allocate the volume based on your usage." By understanding workloads, flash be used as a cache volume for hot data and as a storage volume for warm data, which is still faster than an HDD.
With the use of flash growing in the enterprise storage area, SSD vendors have been broadening their product lines to address different types of workloads.
Caching more frequently accessed data on flash using software is not a new trend. Tim Stammers, senior analyst at the 451 Group, said there are many vendors in the server-side caching software market, including incumbent storage providers such as Dell, with its FluidCache server-side software for use with its servers and Compellent back-end storage; EMC, with its XtremeCache software; and NetApp, with its Flash Accel software. NetApp also supports Fusion-io's ioTurbine caching software. Other competitors include Western Digital, thanks to its acquisition of Virident, VeloBit, and STEC last year.
Stammers said it remains to be seen if there is a long-term market for caching software such as OCZ's ZD-XL; it's still an emerging market, and one common concern for users is data coherency.
Wong said OCZ specifically has positioned itself as offering more value than just a box or a card. Both it and Fusion-io are differentiating themselves in the market by offering more than just commodity hardware. Most NAND providers are fairly basic in their software offerings, he said, with PCIe drivers and acceleration software. Databases lend themselves well to a high-end PCIe solution due to latency requirements, he said, and SQL is one of the most popular databases.
OCZ is not the only flash company to hitch its wagon to Microsoft technology. The scaleout memory platform maker Violin Memory offers an array that enables Microsoft enterprise applications, including SQL Server, SharePoint, and Exchange, as well as Windows Server Hyper-V virtualization and Server Message Block (SMB) file services, to run natively on the platform to reduce latency and improve performance by accessing persistent memory in the form of flash directly on a Violin array.