The ups and downs of Violin Memory’s business has been well documented over the last few months.  With a new CEO and management team in place, the company is coming to market with new products, which they hope will revive their fortunes.

Windows Flash Array

First for discussion is the Windows Flash Array (WFA).  This is an upgrade to the standard Violin 6000 series array but incorporates a pair of embedded Windows servers running Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 that connect directly to the PCIe backplane and internal storage.  This isn’t a device for running Windows applications on the array, so isn’t a hyper-converged offering, but instead is a device capable of supporting the Windows Server protocols such as SMB and iSCSI.  The benefit of embedding Windows are multifold:

  • WFA can take advantage of all the recent advancements in Windows Server storage features, such as Storage Spaces, de-duplication and REFS.
  • WFA can provide native support for SMB3.0, delivering storage for Microsoft applications such as Hyper-V and SQL Server.
  • WFA can take advantage of features such as SMB Direct and SMB Multichannel, allowing a WFA to act as a high performance file server.
  • WFA could also act as an iSCSI storage array (although this isn’t specifically called out in Violin’s presentation materials).

Aside from the technical benefits of being able to leverage data services features that have been obviously lacking in the 6000 series Violin arrays, Violin claims that the Windows Flash Array solution offers OpEx savings of up to 80% and CapEx savings that place the solution in the NAS price range while offering DAS performance and SAN features.  This of course may be true, but Microsoft operating systems are demanding in terms of patching and management so it will be interesting to see how Violin intends to get around the supportability issues and maintain enterprise-class availability.

Violin Concerto

The second product offering is known as Concerto or the 7000 series.  This is Violin’s attempt to bring data services to the existing 6000 series appliance range without the integration of the Windows operating system.

The 7000 series uses a pair of gateway controllers that sit in front of standard 6000 series arrays to create a system capable of scaling up to 280TB raw (4x 6000 series) and offering 500,000 sustained IOPS at 500 microseconds latency.  All of the data services are delivered through the gateway appliances, which are based on a customised Linux distribution that does add some latency to the delivery of I/O from the solution.  The data services implemented by the gateway modules include both synchronous and asynchronous replication, thin provisioning, thin clones and snapshots.  Violin quote list price of a fully configured 280TB array at around $9.50/GB or a street price of around $4.50/GB.

The Architect’s View

The Windows Flash Array and Concerto bring much needed data services to Violin’s hardware portfolio, although at this stage, de-duplication is missing from the Concerto 7000 series.  This makes the solution uncompetitive when measuring “effective” capacities on a $/GB comparison.  I expect we will see de-duplication functionality added pretty soon. In the current incarnation, Concerto is a scale-up solution, with performance and capacity increases achieved by adding more hardware to the dual controller architecture.  This currently puts it in competition with the likes of EMC XtremIO, Pure Storage FlashArray and HP 3PAR 7450.  However the gateway appliances create a solution much like IBM’s FlashSystem V840 that uses SAN Volume Controller (SVC) in front of FlashSystem appliances, with SVC providing the data services.  The immediate question here is whether Violin can move data services natively into the 6000 series arrays and eliminate the need for gateway controllers, much like their Windows Flash Array offering.  Embedding the controllers would allow a more scale-out solution to be created, which possibly have more market appeal in the long term.

Violin have made a good stab at bringing sorely missed data services to their flash offerings.  However I’m still not 100% convinced of the market positioning for Concerto and how it will be marketed compared to the existing 6000 series arrays.  In addition, no hardware capacity increases were announced with Concerto, which will continue to use existing VIMMs.  An increase in capacity needs to come soon in order to keep scalability competitive.

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Copyright (c) 2007-2018 – Post #6B9A – Chris M Evans, first published on, do not reproduce without permission. Photo credit iStock.

Written by Chris Evans

With 30+ years in IT, Chris has worked on everything from mainframe to open platforms, Windows and more. During that time, he has focused on storage, developed software and even co-founded a music company in the late 1990s. These days it's all about analysis, advice and consultancy.