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Will Solid State Drives Go Beyond Enterprise?

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Solid state disk (SSD) drives currently cost as much as 30 times more than Fibre
Channel drives, but the return is impressive. The high cost has kept SSDs primarily tied
to high-end enterprises that can afford such pricey performance.

Insiders predict a revolution in solid state storage next year.

But given that prices for SSDs are dropping rapidly, the drives may become more
ubiquitous than in enterprise. Research firm IDC reports that cost is decreasing by as
much as 40 to 50 percent annually, and industry insiders and vendors predict SSDs will be
saturating storage systems as early as next year.

“The popularity really hinges on cost,” Charles King, an analyst at research firm
Pund-IT, told “Prices are dropping significantly to the point
where they will become options in midrange storage systems,” King said, noting EMC’s
Clariion CX4 systems
announced a few weeks back
were the first midrange storage solutions to support

The data read time is 10 times greater, which can be a huge differentiator when it
comes to transaction-processing applications. Processing credit card or trade
transactions faster means more money coming in.

EMC (NYSE: EMC) is the biggest SSD champion at this point. Its Clariion news marked
its second big SSD foray. The first was the news earlier this year when
it integrated SSDs into its high-end Symmetrix DMX-4 storage systems.

Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA) followed
quickly behind
, brashly predicting every device it will ship will have the flash
technology by the end of 2010. Such big name support illustrates why SSD, which uses
memory chips instead of rotating platters for data storage, could drive one of the
biggest storage changes in decades.

In a recent report, IDC stated that “SSD adoption will be measured and deliberate,
focusing first on market segments that can tolerate the additional premium associated
with SSDs,” referring to today’s cost factor.

“One of its big advantages is that it gives increased performance,” Jeff Janukowicz,
an IDC analyst covering solid state disk drives, told

For example SSD can reduce data access time from 20 milliseconds on hard disks to
about 0.5 milliseconds, an accomplishment Janukowicz termed “significant.”

“It also offers high reliability due to its physical nature and is more energy
efficient as it requires less power,” Janukowicz said.

Those attributes have most SSD OEMs busy right now integrating and testing the
technology. “Companies have been using hard disks for decades, and SSD is relatively new
so enterprises will have to learn about where they best fit in,” Janukowicz said.

The best fit is where high performance, high capacity and fast disk read times are
needed. SSD isn’t a technology that every enterprise needs or one that can fulfill all
storage requirements, experts point out.

“At this point, SSD products are largely aimed at enterprises looking to maximize
performance of large databases and other IT assets that benefit from enhanced response
times,” King explained. “It is a specialized solution to specific kinds of problems.”

Yet that specialty aspect won’t preclude good adoption rates thanks to emerging
storage environments such as Web 2.0 platforms, which need the same high-end storage
systems built in legacy customers bases such as the financial and government sectors.

“The technology is already going beyond the commerce and trade transaction worlds,”
Patrick Wilkison, vice president of business development at SSD manufacturer STEC, told STEC supplies the drives used by EMC in its high-end Symmetrix
and midrange Clariion arrays.

“It’s a certain technology that can do certain things and is proliferating behind
where it’s been the past few years,” he said. As price drops, more companies will
understand its value as a cost-effective storage option, Wilkison added.

STEC expects all major storage arrays will support SSDs by April 2009. “Consider that
our flash-based SSD line just came online in early 2007, and OEMS are already pulling it
in,” Wilkison said. The technology, he added, requires a great deal of qualification
effort by storage vendors.

“EMC had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into SSD and has called it a new
permanent tier of storage that is not going away,” Wilkison said.

Market success, he said, will be tied to making sure the technology provides customers
with needed benefits. That means vendors will likely have to help educate storage leaders
on where it best fits.

“It has to be an application-centric approach, and organizations have to ask what
problem can they solve using this drive,” Wilkison said. His statement was echoed by

“The biggest issue is how to help customers understand when and where SSD solutions
are ideally applied,” said King.

“You’d think that would be fairly clear, but often the enthusiasm for a new technology
overwhelms best practice considerations. While SSD offers significant benefits over HDD
technologies, businesses need to clearly understand what those benefits are and how they
can be captured.”

Article courtesy of

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