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February 18, 2009

1.040: efd - what's in a name?

Giraffes Can't Dance, by Giles AndreaeIt seems that at least some of the Flash Dancers I called out in my last post are embarrassed to admit that their dance moves aren't all that awe-inspiring.

Other's seem intent on proving that they actually can't dance at all, like the Giraffes in Giles Andreae's book.

Or so it seems in the viral blogger war that's broken out over on one of NetApp's blogger's site (where else?).

At the root of the debate is EMC's use of the term "Enterprise Flash Drive," or EFD. Seems that representatives of at least two of the Flash Dancers (HP and, you-guessed-it, NetApp) have taken issue with this term, calling it a "new acronym" that proves that EMC "doesn't have a clue how to use flash technology at all."

This from a company that to date has delivered nothing flash-based to market other than a simple qualification of a third party solid-state storage device, and the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of a NAND-based PAM at some point in the future (as far as I can tell, they're only shipping DRAM-based PAMs to date).

Why am I not surprised? 

Because that's exactly what I meant about Flash Dancing – those that can't DO have to tap-dance around with competitor attacks and acrobatic misdirection to mask their inability to deliver.

But here's the thing – EMC didn't invent the term EFD as a marketing ploy. Nor did EMC bloggers all-of-a-sudden just start using it within the past couple of months.

No, the term has been used consistently since EMC's introduction of flash drive support back on January 14, 2008. In fact, my very first blog post on Flash drives described Enterprise Flash and EFDs.

Granted, that's before at least some of the anti-EMC attack squad were even participating in the blog-o-sphere, but that's hardly an excuse.

Given the confusion (and ruckus) that's spun up around the term, I thought I'd take a moment to explain what's behind EMC's intentional use of "EFD" instead of the more generic "SSD."

efd's are different

Far from a marketing ploy, EFD has been used since the outset by EMC to describe Flash SSDs that meet EMC's requirements for use in enterprise-class storage arrays. It's really that simple.

But I'll explain.

Drives that earn the EFD designation from EMC are those that are architected, designed and implemented in a manner that meets what we believe are the more stringent minimum requirements of the enterprise. EFDs are thus differentiated from those flash-based SSDs that are being offered for use in laptops and desktop applications (as an example), much in the same manner that enterprise-class disk drives have been differentiated from the disk drives targeted at the home consumer for the last 15-20 years or so.

This "enterprise" differentiation for disk drives isn't unique to EMC, as virtually every storage vendor today (including HP and NetApp) utilizes the same "enterprise class" disk drives from the same vendors for their external storage arrays.

For disk drives, "enterprise" usually means these drives have features such better spindle and stepper motors, longer-life lubrication, more internal cache and better tolerances for rotational vibration interference (RVI) than the more general purpose drives you might find down at Best Buy or Frye's.

And it does matter – recall this video of a Fishworks JBOD suffering a 100x impact on response times just because the guy yells at a drive. You wouldn't expect that to happen with an enterprise class disk drive, and with enterprise-class drives in an enterprise-class array, it won't.

"Enterprise-class" also includes requirements that are equally applicable to flash drives as they are to disk drives. For example, enterprise-class drives must have dual I/O ports. EMC also requires end-to-end data path protection with error detection and correction with overlapping integrity validation across fault domains to protect against random bit flips or Single Event Upsets (SEUs). If the device employs volatile DRAM cache buffers internally, then it must be able to reliably destage the content to persistent store in the event of an unplanned power failure or accidental drive pull without external supplemental power. And of course enterprise-class drives have to be designed to run under constant I/O loads 24-by-forever, while tolerating the expected fluctuations in power, heat and vibrations typical in the average (and not-so-average) data centers.

And the list goes on – suffice to say that the term "enterprise class" is not applied lightly when you build products that are expected to protect the world's most important and vital information. In fact, EMC has a detailed requirements specification for every single component that goes into a every single one of its products. Flash drive and disk drive vendors alike must meet or exceed those requirements to even be considered, and once qualified, their products are continually tested to ensure they maintain compliance over time…

But i don't mean to make this "enterprise class" stuff sound mystical or anything – every storage supplier probably has similar documented requirements
for the components they use in their products. Just ask them…

efds are rare

In EMC's search for a suitable flash drive, we encountered dozens of flash drives, in various stages of development. We talked to early-funding startups, companies in stealth mode, storage vendors, chip manufacturers, and practically every vendor who is shipping a flash drive commercially today.

And we found that almost none of the products you can buy even today, in February 2009, meet all of EMC's enterprise-class requirements.

Back in 2007, there was only one vendor even close. More importantly, that vendor was ready, willing and able to work with EMC to bring their product in line with EMC's requirements. A partnership that – again I say it – inarguably opened the door to a new era in the storage industry.

Today, that one vendor, STEC, is indeed the same vendor that EMC's competitors are sourcing their flash drives from, and they are all choosing to use the same ZeusIOPS drive that EMC declared was "enterprise-class" back in January 2008. They have each undertaken whatever integration, testing and qualification they felt necessitated by the technology, and just as with enterprise fibre channel drives, we are all now sourcing the same enterprise flash drives from the same supplier.

That EMC chose at the outset to label these enterprise-class flash SSDs as EFDs was really for the benefit of customers and the market in general, to help foster the understanding that these drives are indeed different from the flash drives used in digital cameras or being sold for the laptop market. And just as significantly, EFDs are different from say, PCIe-based flash devices being qualified for use in most server platforms today.

They are a separate class of flash-based SSD, with unique features and capabilities.

so why all the fuss over efd?

I honestly don't see why all the fuss from NetApp and HP over "EFD" – even though they didn't invent the term, there's nothing stopping them from using it, and the term says nothing negative about other drives – it just clarifies the classification.

More importantly, if those vendors (and their employees) truly understand the significance of the differences between a drive that provides the enterprise-class capabilities and the vast majority of SSDs that don't, it seems counter-productive for them to try to undermine the term. Instead of fighting against the terminology solely because their arch-rival The Evil Machine Company started using it first, they should be embracing the term, and helping to drive more SSD suppliers to make the investments necessary to be included under the EFD umbrella!

And of course there will be more vendors who will bring "enterprise class" solid state storage devices to market over the coming months and years. And you can expect that EMC will evaluate each one against their stringent "enterprise-class" requirements before they get integrated into EMC's storage arrays. Any SSD that passes will have earned the EFD classification, and hopefully the term will become ubiquitous across the industry, much as "enterprise disk drive" already has.

Come on, guys, let's stop the bickering dancing – I gotta tell ya, it's not really all that pretty. We have a great new technology opportunity ahead of us, and rather than fight over terminology, let's just get on with making persistent solid state storage the game changer it's going to be, starting with EFDs!


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Barry Whyte

Hey, guess what I'm the first to post... BUT

For once I agree.

I also see that the distinction in term could be useful. Personally I refer to them as SSD and "laptop" SSD, but agree there are only really a couple of vendors out there that can provide the required reliability that any "storage" vendor would give their seal of approval too.

I have a draft post in the works to come back against your previous post, setting some of the scene and hopefully providing some constructive comments - these are interesting times, and while I take my hat off to EMC for being the first to GA SSDs, I understand you have IBM to thank for that :)

the storage anarchist

Wow! First The Claus and now Sir Whyte agreeing with EMC in the same month!! Isn't that unexpected?

But I wouldn't be too smug about IBM's role in EFD's coming to market. EMC got started by filling a similar gap in IBM's foresight for the external storage in the first place. Today EMC's #1 market share in almost every market we compete in demonstrates a lasting ability to create and lead new markets and opportunities.

Focus, focus, focus.

That said, I'm sure that we'll see a lot of game-changing nnovations over the coming months and years, from all over our industry. I"m anxious to learn exactly what you're up to, and I suspect you may be interested in at least some of the new things we'll introduce this year as well.

Interesting times indeed.

Kevin Silver

FYI: In the memory/storage industry, the acronym "EFD" is more commonly associated with "Embedded Flash Drive", as opposed to "Enterprise Flash Drive"

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I am unabashedly an employee of EMC, but the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. I am a blogger who works at EMC, not an EMC blogger. This is my blog, and not EMC's. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of EMC.

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