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Solid "Slate" Storage

In my last entry, I discussed how solid state storage could make its way into the enterprise. What is sometimes forgotten in that discussion is that the other markets solid state storage participates in potentially dwarf the enterprise market. One of the subjects made clear at the Flash Memory Summit was how big the market for smartphones and slates or tablets like the Apple iPad is going to become. Solid "slate" storage may end up dwarfing every other market that solid state storage participates in.

In the enterprise, the discussion is always when and how will solid state storage be suitable for replacing mechanical disk drives. The situation is similar in the consumer Netbook and laptop market. Solid state technology in this market allows for snappier response, quicker wake from sleep and longer battery life. However in each of these markets solid state must be compared to mechanical storage. There is the constant trade off of price vs. capacity in every product design.

Where solid state storage is set to run unabated is in the devices market, where there really is no competition for the storage technology, and everyone in the solid state industry seems guaranteed success. The devices in the tablet space, iPads and ultra thin Netbooks, are good examples, because they simply can't use mechanical hard drives, there's no room for them. Solid state is your only storage option and this market is set for explosive growth. The iPad's success is proving not to be a flash in the pan as sales continue to accelerate.

What's different about the slate/tablet device market, unlike the smartphone market, is that performance is important. Many people use these products for productivity applications, so standard Flash that is used in smartphones may not be fast enough. Most Flash storage has a small amount of DRAM on it that acts as a cache to help with performance. The size of this cache is going to need to be larger in the tablet market, and suppliers are going to have to look at the possibility of a different, more cost effective technology. For example, SanDisk is using SLC Flash as a cache in its new iSSD device designed for the tablet market. There will be a need for larger capacities in the tablet market because people are likely to use them in more disconnected scenarios. As a result 16GB is the bare minimum and 64GB solid state is probably going to be the more common capacity point for these products.

What does all this mean to the enterprise? I think there is going to be a need for some sort of backup client on these systems that back up to a cloud provider, and possibly an agent from the more traditional backup software developers. Incorporating the data from tablets into the overall data protection process may become key, similar to the laptop dilemma that we face today. Slate/tablet type devices may be the ultimate venue for virtual desktop usage. The idea of carrying something like an iPad around and then accessing your desktop from anywhere may be the accelerant to broad adoption of virtualizing the desktop. We'll take a deeper dive on this subject in my next entry.