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Howard Marks
Howard Marks
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Solid State Storage Market Heats Up

In the roughly three years since EMC stuck some STEC SSDs in its disk arrays and brought solid state to the mainstream storage market, we’ve seen flash memory work its way into disk-based storage systems both modest and grand. During the past few months, we’ve also seen vendors targeting all-solid-state systems at mainstream users and applications. Most recently, all-solid-state pioneers Texas Memory Systems and Nimbus Data introduced new versions of their systems.

In the roughly three years since EMC stuck some STEC solid state disks (SSDs) in its disk arrays and brought solid state to the mainstream storage market, we’ve seen flash memory work its way into disk-based storage systems both modest and grand. During the past few months, we’ve also seen vendors targeting all-solid-state systems at mainstream users and applications. Most recently, all-solid-state pioneers Texas Memory Systems and Nimbus Data introduced new versions of their systems.

I find the flash-only market fascinating. Here we have upstart vendors warming up the audience, while we all know the big boys like EMC and HP are waiting in the wings. Even better, the vendors in the market are building very different systems that should be of interest to different sets of users while they all make the case for shared flash as the right solution for primary storage.

The all-flash upstarts also have support from their flash memory suppliers. Samsung has a substantial investment in Pure Storage as Toshiba has in Violin Memory. The chip makers are betting that by establishing all-solid-state systems in the marketplace they’ll sell more flash than if users embrace caching or automated tiering.

The simplest of the new systems is Texas Memory System’s RAMSAN-810, which represents TMS’ first use of MLC, OK, eMLC flash in a 1u, 10-Tbyte rack-mount SSD that delivers a claimed 320,000 IOPs over Fibre Channel or Infiniband connections. TMS has been building SSDs for 30 years, starting, as the RAMSAN moniker implies, with RAM-based devices. They’ve long been the go-to guys when you need the ultimate in reliable performance at any cost.

By using eMLC in cards, and building its own controllers rather than using commercially available SSDs, TMS can wear level across all the flash in the system, extending the working life of the eMLC past the three years or so a RAMSAN-810 will live in your data center. The RAMSAN is a basic SSD--you can chop it into logical unit numbers (LUNs), but it doesn’t support snapshots, replication or any of the other storage management features we expect to find in a disk array.

Where the RAMSAN-810 shows TMS' heritage as an SSD vendor, Nimbus Data's S-Class continues Nimbus Data's history as a unified storage supplier providing access as network-attached storage (NAS) using SMB or NFS, as well as block access via Fibre Channel, iSCSI and Infiniband. As we'd expect from an all-flash system built from a mature unified storage platform, there's a full set of storage management features, including snapshots, replication and in-band data deduplication all over Nimbus' own flash-optimized file system. Architecturally, the S-Class is pretty conventional, with a single controller head unit and add-on shelves of SSDs.

S-Class, now in its second generation with faster processors and bigger SSDs, was the first all-solid-state system to address price-performance, not just price. eBay certainly thought the roughly $10 per gigabyte was reasonable, as it recently announced it is using 100 Tbytes of S-Class.

Howard Marks is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage ... View Full Bio
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