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EMC To Sell Flash Memory To Enterprise

The sad truth is that every computing problem has at least one performance bottleneck. Those of us lucky enough to run applications where the slowest component of the chain is the user don't often have to worry about it.
For online transaction processing systems, whether they be credit card authorizations, airline ticket sales, or users updating their YourSpace pages, that bottleneck is the disk system and, more specifically, random disk I/O performance. Many systems that are disk bound aren't flooding the Fibre Channel or even iSCSI connection between the server and disks but are waiting for the disk heads to move from track to track.

Over the years, smart engineers, realizing that there's a market that will pay just about any price to speed up their applications, have come up with schemes from head-per-track disk drives to RAM-based solid state disks which are really fast but volatile, so a power failure could be catastrophic. Most users have settled on disk arrays like EMC's Symmetrix DMX that use a large RAM cache and "short stroking," or using just the outer tracks of disk drives (which store more data than the shorter inner tracks) to have more head positioners working at the same time and minimize their motion.

EMC is using a new generation of flash memory drives from STEC that are optimized for random disk I/O. Most consumer flash devices use multilevel cell technology that requires a block of data to be read or written at one time, which seriously impacts random write performance. In fact, benchmark data at Tom's Hardware shows that the 64-Gbyte SATA SSDs now coming to market for laptop use can be slower than a hard drive for random I/O. The STEC Zeusiops drives use static RAM caches and single-value cells to boost performance to 10 times that of a 15-Kbyte RPM hard drive. STEC's benchmarks claim 9,000 IOPS (I/O operations per second), which is just astounding. The drives have Fibre Channel or SATA interfaces and can plug in to a Symmetrix just like rotating drives.

Users that can identify the portions of their data that is accessed often enough to justify the premium price EMC is sure to charge for Flash SSDs should be able to see a significant performance boost.

We expect HDS, NetApp, and the other enterprise players already are fine-tuning their RAID controller microcode to support STEC's drives and will make their 'me, too' announcements over the next six months or so.