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Setting Your Sights on SSDs

Are SSDs more than just a Flash in the pan?

At the beginning of 2008, I, like many, was skeptical of using Flash technology in enterprise-class storage systems. My concerns were that users would not implement the drives due to their higher cost compared to spinning hard drives, their widely known limitations on rewrites, and no proven implementation record in mission-critical environments. In addition, I had heard some real horror stories over the past few years of laptop users with Flash and their data loss when the flash memory malfunctioned. As we all know, enterprise storage contains the life of business -- information -- and mission-critical application environments have grown accustomed to 24x7xforever operations.

Okay, I know there are other companies providing Solid State Disk (SSD) storage systems, such as Texas Memory (for 15 years), and, as a matter of fact, there are a number of drive and SSD technology suppliers already in the business and others about to announce new advancements in the technology as a whole. So, if I know all this, then I expect technology leaders of companies such as 3PAR, EMC, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Sun, and others to be well up-to-date on advances in solid state technologies and the nuances associated with the recording medium. Otherwise, I am left to believe they are stuck on spinning disks and do not understand the market forces at work that drive the need for speed and increased use of flash drives within enterprise-class storage products with enterprise-class reliability and resilience.

Rather than opine quickly in early 2008 on technical concerns and user acceptance, I watched, read, listened, and learned and did some basic research with vendors and users. I watched a number of vendors discuss flash drives at conferences (the goodness of them, the danger of them, and the industry-changing nature of them). I read blogs and articles that were informative, factually incorrect, and sometimes downright funny, and I listened to podcasts and presentations from vendors that provided a number of different views -- a learning experience, to say the least.

What did I learn?

I learned that Sun Microsystems has structured ZFS so it can be used effectively with SSD subsystems (primarily for use with its OEM’d LSI storage product and resold HDS systems in Q4 -- but a good thing because, in my opinion, there will be more third-party SSDs attached to Sun than Sun-sold SSDs). It is not clear that Sun understands the business forces at work driving price changes in SSD -- it is not iPods and thumb drives (a very different use of flash memory).

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