Facebook Wants New Breed of Flash Memory for Storing Old Pics
BY CADE METZ01.17.136:30 PM
Today, Facebook stores all your photos on good old-fashioned mechanical hard disks. This works well enough, but now that the company is juggling hundreds of billions of photos, many of them dating back three or four years, it makes less sense by the day. Those older photos aren’t accessed that often, and if they remain on hard drives, they continue to sap relatively large amounts of power.
Traditionally, companies have moved their older digital data to, say, magnetic tape. With Facebook, there’s an added rub. Even those older photos must be stored in a way that lets you instantly retrieve them. “We can’t say: ‘Hey, you want to look at that picture from Halloween five years ago? We’ll go grab the tape and put it on the drive and send it to you in the week,’” Parikh explained on Wednesday, during a speech at the Open Compute Project’s latest summit meeting. “That just doesn’t work.”
Parikh and company could move those older photos to the sort of flash memory devices that are now invading other parts of the computer data center — devices that consumes far less power than hard disks — but these carry relatively high price tags. Today’s super-speedy flash devices are a great to store information that’s accessed all the time, but they’re too expensive for the kind of “cold storage” Facebook needs for old photos.
So Parikh wants someone to build him some flash storage that’s cheaper. Basically, today’s flash is built to maximize the number of reads and writes you can make — the medium tends to degrade as you read and write — but he wants a version that specifically designed for data that’s accessed only occasionally.
“We want something with a low write-endurance,” he told us on Wednesday. “We want to get to something with a much, much lower unit cost per gigabyte.” This will also reduce the company’s power consumption, and according to Parikh, it will give his engineers more flexibility when it comes to writing software. “You play all sorts of neat software tricks in terms of how you optimize it.” When you’re reading and writing data on spinning hard drive platters — and you want to keep speeds up — there are tight restrictions on how you can do so.
On stage, during his speech, Parikh likened storage devices to cars. Right now, he said, it was as if his only options were a minivan and a high-end sports car. What he really wants is a third option — something more like a Prius. “We want is a continuum of options,” he said. “Today, the spectrum is very coarse. There’s tape on one end. There’s flash on the other end. And spinning disks in the middle. And that’s it.”
That may seem like a tall order, but Facebook is now so large — and so influential — it can make such requests in earnest. According to Facebook hardware design and supply chain guru Frank Frankovksy, Facebook engineers have long worked hand-in-hand with the Utah-based flash storage outfit Fusion-io, playing directly into the company’s latest designs, including the new 3.2 terabyte flash introduced on Wednesday at the Open Compute Summit, and Fusion-io chief David Flynn is only too happy to advertise this relationship.
Fusion-io’s high-speed flash cards are already driving Facebook’s database software — where so much of your text-based today is stored — but someday, Facebook will also move flash into the cold storage facility it’s building outside its data center up in Prineville, Oregon. It needs to get its hands on an entirely new type of flash before that can happen. But that shouldn’t be a problem.
Refreshing to see another poster who understands that FIOs solution is "different" and sustainably so. Recall that Fakebook requested and received $10m of accelerated install work from FIO in the September Q, shifting that work from the December q while shifting other work from Sep to Dec q. Not much thinking needed to connect the dots to the Phase 2 center in Oregon (the one next to AAPLs new data center there) and recall that FB has another seven, yes 7, high end data centers planned over the next 2 years.
The post above emphasizes an aspect of FIOs TAM that perhaps few realize (incl both buysiders and sell side analysts). FIO's solutions are not YET being used on many of FB's (or AAPL or China Mobile or Salesforce) applications. As horizontal growth within strategic customers proliferates --aided hugely by the likes of OEM players including CSCO and NTAP and others specifying FIO solutions incl ORCL now -- we expect the power of FIOs operating leverage will expand Wall Street's awareness rapidly... another couple of quarters should deliver that outcome.
Perhaps soon more than just the smart guys will realize that the OCZ wannabes are not relevant (we've been saying that for over a year here), but also that EMCs legacy hard drive business collapsed by 25% over the few quarters, while FIOs revenues, staffing and guidance continue to grow.
On December 8th 2011, the fly on the wall reported;
December 8th 2011
Facebook pursuing alternative flash vendors, says Lazard Capital
Lazard Capital's channel checks indicate that Facebook is aggressively pursuing alternative flash solutions to support its database tier. However, the firm cautions investors from concluding that Fusion-io's (FIO) peers have closed the technology gap since it believes server-based flash offerings currently on the market from LSI Corp. (LSI), Micron (MU) and OCZ Technology (OCZ) are not similar to Fusion-io’s VSL (Virtual Storage Layer software). Further, given Facebook's multiple applications, Lazard Capital thinks alternative flash vendors hired by Facebook may not necessarily come at Fusion-io’s expense. The firm keeps a Neutral rating on Fusion-io shares and does not expect any near-term business impact, but points out implications for the stock are clearly negative.
Also, you can find ‘ioScale’ trademark under Corporate Information section from last year’s 10-k. This is an excellent example of turning challenges into opportunities!