As part of its ongoing effort to save energy, Google appears to be planning to use solid state drives in its servers.
The SSDs will be delivered in the second quarter of the year and will include Intel flash memory and Marvell control chips, according to a report in DigiTimes that cites unnamed sources at memory suppliers. The sources reportedly predict that rising use of SSDs in servers could lead to a shortage of 16-GB and 32-GB NAND flash chips.
Google declined to comment. "We don't disclose specifics about our infrastructure or hardware," a Google spokesperson said via e-mail.
It won't be clear how much power Google might save using SSDs until such systems actually become operational, and even then Google may not make than information public.
"Generally speaking, the SSD should take about half the power of an equivalent disk drive in a notebook," said Avi Cohen, managing partner at Avian Securities, via e-mail. "But as a storage solution in an enterprise environment, given that one SSD should replace multiple drives because you're replacing I/O per second rather than GB per sec in terms of data transfer rates, power savings should be more dramatic."
Google's move to SSDs, if it happens on a large scale, may help make SSD technology more mainstream. According to Cohen, the solid state storage industry has been slow bringing its products to market and businesses have been slow in adopting them.
A demand-driven shortage of NAND flash chips would be welcomed in the industry, Cohen suggested. "We can pray to the gods that might be the case," he said in a phone interview. "Right now there's a huge oversupply."
Industry adoption of solid state drives hasn't happened as quickly as anticipated, thanks to high prices (despite the oversupply) and the fact the SSDs aren't clearly superior to hard disk drives.
Cohen said that in the case of Apple's MacBook Air, the SSD option didn't appear to matter much to consumers. "The feedback we got from guys using it is you don't really sense a significant difference," he said.
Apple began offering a 64-GB SSD storage option in its MacBook Air when the super-slim notebook was introduced in January. The SSD option costs $999 more than the 80-GB HDD alternative.
According to Cohen, industry contacts told him that Apple is working closely with Intel to supply it with future SSDs for its MacBook Air. Supposedly, this new generation of SSDs will use multi-layer cell chips, which are more dense and less expensive to produce than single-layer cell chips. He estimated that within six months a 100-GB SSD will be available for around $400 to $500.
But MLC SSDs are not without their own issues, said Cohen, who noted that such systems need better error correction, making them more suitable for enterprise use.
Cohen said that SSDs and HDDs would probably continue to co-exist for a long time in data centers because each has its strengths. HDDs perform better for sequential writing, which is what happens when you're storing large databases, he said, and SSDs perform better for random access tasks, like searching a large index.
This perhaps explains Google's interest in the technology.