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Performance Trends Favor Solid-State Storage

Improving storage performance is a complex task that involves defining and implementing standards, orchestrating test lab and vendor activity, working with leading-edge customers, and then presenting the market with systems that combine value, affordability, and future scalability. The process usually takes time and money. A potential disruption to this established process is solid-state technology.

Solid-state drives (SSDs) can leverage the power of memory and semiconductor technology packaged as disk drives, and they use common interfaces and command structures to remove some traditional storage media bottlenecks. Nobody questions the ability of SSDs to substantially boost performance. But there are still several issues that need to be resolved -- ranging from cost to reliability to standards -- before SSDs gain a prominent place in many storage infrastructures.

"When we look at storage media, there is a desire to improve disk drive performance, and SSDs are a solution. But the market still has to accept price points that go along with reliability and performance," says Wayne Adams, chairman of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) , who works at EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC). "Today, SSDs are costly and are therefore restricted to certain niches of the market that require high performance computing, such as telcos, the military, banking, and trading. But over the next 24 months, SSD prices will drop into the midrange, which is being fueled in part by the many SSDs that are being used in consumer devices like laptops and cameras. A number of storage vendors already have product roadmaps that incorporate SSDs, although it is in a different flavor when you are talking about a data center versus the consumer side."

This "different flavor" is in part driven by a shift to more unstructured storage (e.g., files), which creates an environment where more storage systems and applications will demand highly intelligent systems management and richer, more intelligent applications to manage data.

"Along with this trend, we see a second trend, which is a specification of storage media for certain tasks," says Jon Affeld, senior director of product management and development for storage systems vendor BlueArc Corp. Affeld sees a future system architecture where the SSD data center role is steadily broadened from being a "front end" that jumpstarts performance for an array of hard drives, to a dedicated tier of storage in a single system footprint that contains within it both HPC SSD and lower performance, terabyte-sized SATA (serial advanced technology attachment) drives that are ideal for inexpensive data archiving.

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