IT Executives Have Better Handle On SSD's In 2010

In the last three years, IT executives have been hearing about solid state disk drives (SSD), but technology adoption has largely been limited to high performance computing (HPC) where SSD is an integral component. This year, market uptake will again expand, only now decision-makers have a better grasp of how and where they can use SSD in their enterprises.

January 21, 2010

4 Min Read
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In the last three years, IT executives have been hearing about solid state disk drives (SSD), but technology adoption has largely been limited to high performance computing (HPC) where SSD is an integral component. This year, market uptake will again expand, only now decision-makers have a better grasp of how and where they can use SSD in their enterprises.

One immediate application area is laptop and notebook computing, where SSDs exceed hard drives in performance, are cost-competitive and provide lighter-weight mobile devices. Beyond that, vendors like Pliant, Intel, SanDisk, Seagate and others are increasingly packaging SSD with their products or offering SSD  as  a product option for processing-intensive and green computing scenarios in the data center.

"There are two areas in memory and storage where vendor engineers are using SSDs as building blocks," said Phil Mills, Director and Secretary of the Solid State Storage Initiative for SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association). "In the area of processing memory, some vendors are extending the capabilities of cache memory with solid state flash. In the enterprise area, vendors have figured out that SSD technology is a potential game-changer that can break the cycle we've experienced over the past 40 years with the pros and cons of slow-rotating media like traditional hard drives." Mills feels that the easing of the economic downturn in 2010, coupled with enterprise needs for memory expansion and data center energy reductions, are likely to fuel more enterprise SSD purchases. "Solid state technology has also become more mature, and many enterprises have gotten their hands on it and know what SSD can and cannot do," added Mills.

At the same time, however, the enterprise SSD market at the start of 2010 faces tight chip supplies which could exert upward pressures on pricing. "Many vendors that supply SSD solutions to both the consumer and the enterprise markets will see that while raw SSD on the enterprise side might cost them $10/gigabyte, the cost on the consumer side might only be $2/gigabyte," said industry analyst Gregory Wong of Forward Insights. The same vendors might be inspired to focus on the consumer side of SSD in order to capitalize on the greater margins.

Despite this, both Wong and Mills expect the 2010 SSD enterprise market to be active. "One of things we are going to see is many different types of system designs that capitalize on the flexible form factors that flash memory can have," said Mills. "For example, vendors are doing different things with cache to speed up processing. With the addition of flash, programs no longer have to wait for I/O anymore, and with SSD-enabled storage that is closer to the CPU, it might inspire a move in IT infrastructure away from network storage and back to network-attached storage."More enterprises are also likely to consider SSD in tiered storage architectures that will allow them to place frequently accessed data on SSD, and infrequently accessed data on hard drives. The move is likely to reduce traditional techniques like striping, where only 20 percent of a series of hard drives is utilized in order to facilitate faster data access. This wasteful allocation approach can be eliminated with SSD, which inherently provides faster data access at the same time that it shrinks media quantities and storage cabinet sizes. The end result is that SSD can have a positive impact on the greening of data centers, the reduction of storage footprints and power consumption--and on lower TCO (total cost of ownership).
    
"Flash memory costs will be further reduced as more vendors move to MLC (multiple-level cell) versus SLC (single-level cell) NAND technology," added Wong, who believes that at some point, SLC NAND will be virtually eliminated. "Along the way, vendors will continue to refine SSD product so as to minimize its shortcomings, such as limits in endurance and a limited number of times that writes can be performed."

Over time, SSD will join HDD as an established technology with a role in the data center and will, like HHD, be subject to replacement or augmentation by newer storage technologies (e.g., phase change memory). For now, though, enterprise decision-makers are starting to see opportunities where SSD can deliver value, and they are purchasing products that either come with or can be reconfigured for SSD. "A project we worked on creates a TCO calculation for enterprises that allows them to take any storage system based on rotating media and calculate how many SSDs will be required to replace these HDD media, along with what the cost will be," said SNIA's Mills. "We have had our hands on this in the lab, and when we meet later this month, we will be determining next steps to promote broader use of this TCO model."
 

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