Datacenters with servers directly attached to solid-state drives (SSDs) often suffer from an imbalance of storage and compute: Either there’s not enough processing power to go around, or physical storage limits get in the way of daily data transfer operations. These stranded resources don’t just waste power as they stand idly by — they take up valuable real estate that could be put to better use.

Four-year-old startup Lightbits Labs claims it has the solution to the perennial underutilization problem, and it’s raising money to prove out its approach. The company today announced that it has raised $50 million in funding led by strategic partners Dell EMC, Cisco, Micron, SquarePeg Capital, Walden International, and others, which CEO and cofounder Eran Kirzner says will be used to expand its workforce of about 50 people and to fuel the launch of its software-defined, disaggregated cloud platform for private cloud and software-as-a-service providers.

“Data center storage underutilization has reached epidemic and expensive levels,” he said. “[W]e’ve changed the playing field for private clouds. Our customers … can now capitalize on the best of both worlds: the application performance of using local [storage] with the simplicity and efficiency of hyperscale.”

Lightbits Labs’ technology taps NVMe/TCP (non-volatile memory express/transmission control protocol), a standard designed to lay on top of standard network infrastructure and drive high-performance, low-latency operations between NVMe-oF (non-volatile memory express over fabric) hosts and NVMe-oF controller devices. The Israel- and San Jose-based company, along with Facebook, Intel, Cisco, Dell EMC, Micron, and others, collaborated on the NVMe/TCP standard that was ratified in November by the NVM Express consortium.

Lightbits’ solution is twofold: a software-defined storage platform that integrates with existing datacenter infrastructure, dubbed LightOS; and a PCIe storage acceleration card — LightField — that supports the LightOS stack.¬†They queue NVMe input/output queues to many parallel connections, enabling them to consistently achieve access latency of 100-120 microseconds (or around 200 microseconds on commodity servers). Moreover, neither requires any changes to existing clients or interconnections, and both work with in-line storage services and Cassandra, MongoDB, Kubernetes, Docker, VMWare, and Grafana containers and workloads.

LightOS leverages a shared pool of NVMe storage that can scale up to “millions” of input/output operations (IOPS) per second and thousands of connections across tens of thousands of nodes. And it boasts a suite of services including line-rate erasure-coding (a data protection method in which data is broken into fragments before it’s expanded and encoded with redundant data pieces), data reduction through compression, and thin provisioning. That’s in addition to command-line interface support for script automation and monitoring, and an API that provides a standard HTTPS-based interface for off-the-shelf datacenter management software.

LightField is reprogrammable and extendable, meanwhile, with user-defined in-storage processing functions and hardware acceleration engines that offload memory management and data transfer tasks from the servers’ CPUs. It’s able to achieve a compression and decompression rate of up to 200 gigabits per second and erasure-coding, thanks in part to scatter and gather engines that perform zero-copy network-to-storage transfers.

LightOS can be purchased separately as a software-only solution or purchased in a bundle with the LightField hardware accelerator. Lightbits says they’ve been successfully deployed and tested in “industry-leading” cloud datacenters.

“With Lightbits technology, we can provide network attached NVMe devices with ‘as good or better’ performance characteristics as local NVMe,” cofounder and CEO of Packet Zachary Smith, a Lightbits Labs customer, said. “Doing this over our existing Ethernet-based network with standard 10/25G network cards is a game changer versus other solutions in the market.”

With testimonials that glowing, Lightbits is betting it’ll one-up competitors like Solarflare, which has raised over $300 million in its 17-year history. Time will tell.

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