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NAND Advances Put The Squeeze On Fibre Channel

Recent advances in memory manufacturing are expected to reduce the cost of solid-state storage devices such as those used in high-performance storage arrays. And that, analysts say, could put pressure on the next-fastest medium--Fibre Channel hard drives--as prices edge closer to parity.

Samsung Semiconductor announced last month that it had begun producing NAND flash chips that the company says will reduce cost and boost the potential density of its memory parts without increasing footprint or power consumption. The chips have asynchronous DDR interface using a 30-nm die. According to analyst David Hill, the shift will divide the market into two segments. "SSDs (solid state devices) will occupy the high end where performance matters. SATA will occupy the cost-sensitive area where price-per-terabyte is important. In the long run, Fibre Channel drives will be squeezed as they will not have the performance needed at the high end nor the cost advantages for bulk storage."

Hill, principal at Mesabi Group, which studies enterprise storage and storage management, said the change will be gradual. "Samsung's move is a positive one, but it is only one of the many evolutionary NAND product refreshes that we are likely to see in the next few years," he says. Each new development in SSD is another turn of the screws on Fibre Channel.

The squeeze could last as long as five years according to George Crump, founder and chief steward of Storage Switzerland, a storage analysis firm. In a recent Network Computing blog post, Crump says the mechanical limitation of 15K RPM--now in use for a decade--will be Fibre Channel's eventual undoing. "At the end of the day, storage software will be only able to do so much, especially when there is a more viable and very price-competitive alternative available. The substantial speed advantages that SSD enjoys over mechanical drives as well as the 'greenness' of the SSD drives, and you are left with several compelling reasons to transition to SSD."

In a separate announcement, Samsung said it had also begun producing a 3-bit multi-level-cell (MLC) NAND flash chip using the 30-nm process, boosting capacity to 32GB, and perhaps higher. The parts will initially appear in microSD cards, the company said, but also will be suitable for USB storage and other applications with minimal speed and write-frequency requirements.