0.073: 5773 > c
In case you've been wondering, the previously announced Q1'08 Symmetrix enhancements, including Enginuity 5773, the 73GB and 146GB enterprise flash drives, the 1 TB SATA-II drive and the new GigE I/O director all shipped on schedule last week. As usual, there's quite a bit to talk about, because in addition to what has been announced already, there are several additional features in this code release that revenue recognition rules prohibited EMC from disclosing until everyone was confident that they would actually make the GA release in Q1.
But discussion of perhaps the most significant new feature in 5773 was held back for another reason: to get all the patent applications filed before it was disclosed. This one new feature could well prove to be the foundation of a whole new era in remote replication - potentially changing the nature of distance replication more than flash drives will change the storage media end of the equation.
But it'll take a little explaining (hint: it has something to do with the title of this post), so before I get into the details, a little background...
the quest to accelerate remote replication
When presenting the Symmetrix technology roadmap to customers and prospects under NDA, I've frequently joked that EMC has assigned not one but two separate engineering teams to work on improving the performance (both throughput and response times) of distance replication. The first team, I joke, is working on breaking the speed of light barrier (another hint: that'd be the "c" in the title), while the other is focused on the more promising technologies of data compression and de-duplication to improve the amount of data that can be replicated per unit of time. And the punch line is that if the former team ever succeeds, you can be assured the EMC^2 won't be in the storage business any more .
Now before you turn on your April Fool's day filter, let me assure you that I'm not claiming that the speed-of-light team has come up with a breakthrough (at least not yet, anyway).
No, in fact, it was the de-dupe team that came up with a radical innovation that seemingly "cheats" the transmission speeds of remote replication, and it's pretty exciting (remember, I told you that I work with smart people!).
the tachyon advantage
OK - I'll admit it - I'm having fun with titles (it IS April Fool's day, after all).
No, this isn't about using tachyons (those hypothetical particles that travel at superluminal speeds) to transmit data, but rather the actual Tachyon Fibre Channel Controller from PMC-Sierra that Symmetrix DMX incorporates for its front- and back-end Fibre Channel connectivity.
What the de-dupe team found is that there is a hidden feature within recent generations of this chip that allow a single bit, under certain circumstances, to represent TWO bits of information. Think about that for a minute - twice as much data per bit...even though it's only applicable some of the time, that's pretty radical.
Of course, to work, there has to be a PMC-Sierra Tachyon chip on both sides of the communication link, along with software to take advantage of this somewhat hidden feature. Net-net, it's pretty easy to implement for SRDF on Symmetrix, but it would be more difficult to implement for storage-host FC links, owing as most HBA's are built around QLogic or Emulex chipsets. Also, neither Hitachi nor IBM can use this in most of their storage arrays for the same reason - most of their products don't use Tachyon chips for their FC interfaces, and those other chips just don't support this 2-for-1 capability.
So this is another EMC-unique feature (for now, anyway). Aren't you glad you bought the best?
there are lots of zeros out there
One of the most challenging things about this discovery was to determine which two-bit pattern we would use this feature for. Obviously, we had four choices ("00", "01", "10", "11"). By taking line traces of active SRDF links, EMC's engineers were able to determine that the vast majority of the bits transmitted are in fact zero-bits - and this even though all-zero data blocks are typically compressed by the protocols into a short-hand ("write "00000000" 8092 times"). In fact, on average, nearly 65% of the bits transmitted over SRDF were in fact "0".
But far fewer are adjacent ("00") and aligned.
Still, almost 34% of the total bits transferred were in fact aligned double-zeros, far more than all other bit combinations - and most importantly, these were quite frequently byte-aligned, as required by this new-found capability. Makes sense, if you think about it - most of those 32- and 64-bit integers are used to store numbers that are relatively small (years, months, days, credit charges, account balances, etc.). So that's why the team decided to use this new two-fer bit to represent "00".
Mathematically, if you can transmit 34% of the data using half as many bits, you reduce the number of bits you have to transfer in total by 17%. Which, while not necessarily earth-shattering, is nothing to be ashamed of. On top of the SRDF performance enhancements delivered in 5772 (30% reduction in latency or 2x the distance), this new enhancement adds another 17% latency improvement (or ~1.4x more distance at the same latency). Combined with 5772, SRDF/S customers could see a 50% reduction in latency. And 5773 allows SRDF/A cycle times to be set below 5 seconds (with RPQ) - this new feature adds a little headroom to maximize bandwidth efficiency for the shortest possible RPO.
hats off to the smart guys
Of course, there's a lot more to be discussed about 5773 and flash drives and the like, and I'll try to cover the rest later this week. But I think this new "data compression" feature deserves the most attention. Given the benefits, I expect that other vendors will work night-and-day to get thing into their chip-sets and HBAs as quickly as possible. And who knows - perhaps someone will even find a way to compress more that just one two-bit pattern (a-la quantum computing, where each bit actually has THREE different values).
But for now, that's all science fiction, while DMX-3 and DMX-4 customers who move to Enginuity 5773 will see an immediate improvement in their SRDF performance. So hats off to Dr. Lirpa Sloof and the team that figured this out - you're well on your way to EMC's 2008 Innovator of the Year Award!
Like I said - I work with smart people.