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SSD Opportunity & Threat To Storage Vendors

In part two of our examination of the state of enterprise SSDs/flash storage, we look at the implications for vendors, a mix of new and existing companies seeking to capitalize on a large and growing opportunity.

With solid-state storage (SSDs/flash) making serious inroads in enterprises in recent months, it begs the question, what are the implications of solid-state’s rise on storage vendors? On one hand, it can be bad for vendors because customers won’t need to “over-purchase” hard disk drives (HDDs) just to get the required performance, says Mark Peters, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

“Most people in the SMB and enterprise level are certainly aware of what solid-state can do, but where it falls down is that people are just getting to grips with the business justification,” he says. “They’re still stuck on solid-state being more expensive. If it’s (implemented) well, you’re actually driving down your overall average storage costs.”

Jim Bagley, senior analyst, Storage Strategies NOW in North Carolina, says the solid-state uptake into the enterprise for solid-state has been double what we forecast a year ago. “Year-on-year, the enterprise implementation has doubled, and... (it's) probably going to keep up at that rate for another year”.

He says all of the storage vendors have SSDs in their product lines. Furthermore, that’s making a significant difference in terms of enterprise purchasing decisions because the fog that once clouded executives’ understanding of solid-state benefits is dissipating, he adds.

“That’s a big change in the last couple of years,” Bagley says. “We did a survey about six months ago aimed at IT professionals and it was very clear they knew the benefits offered by solid-state and the applications to get the most bang for your buck.”

Also noteworthy, a new crop of storage companies building solid-state arrays or hybrid arrays are coming to the fore. “We’re seeing a whole new wave of companies in this space,” Bagley adds. “The actors out there right now, they’re brand new companies and they’re busy making a lot of money.”

“We’re beginning to see the emergence at the very high-end of all-flash or all solid-state storage systems,” ESG’s Peters agrees. “They’re just coming out and they’re aimed at very high-performance applications. Once the economics improve, we will have more solid-state as a percentage of overall capacity.”

At last week's Storage Networking World (SNW), Network Computing contributor Howard Marks noted a number of “cool” introductions, including SavageIO's high-density storage system that packs 4 2.5-inch SSDs and 48 hot-swappable 3.5-inch SATA drives in a 4u cabinet. He was also impressed with the innovative ways to package flash and NVRAM from Micron and Viking Technology.

The NST-Series of unified storage systems from Nexsan, which also debuted last week, uses SSDs in an automated tiering scheme for high-performance data sets. The release follows LSI’s ongoing transition from spinning disks to solid state with its latest Nytro products, which are focused on bringing flash into the server. And in February, EMC announced that its PCIe/flash-based server cache technology, VFCache, is now available.

But that won’t necessarily spell the end of HDDs.“I don’t see any reasonable time frame for when disk will disappear, because the cost of spinning disk is also coming down, and as long as that balance between the two remains, people may adjust the proportions they use of each technology,” Peters says. “We may find the highest spinning, lowest capacity performance-oriented disk drives disappear and solid-state takes over that performance.”

Learn more about Research: State of Storage 2012 by subscribing to Network Computing Pro Reports (free, registration required).

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