Feature

Solid State: New frontier for storage

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Dedicated solid-state storage systems from the likes of Texas Memory Systems (TMS) Inc. are another way of bringing solid-state storage into the data center. Instead of enhancing existing arrays with solid-state storage, they plug into existing SANs and are accessed like traditional disk arrays. This is a very clean way of adding a Tier 0, as it eliminates the need to tamper with disk-based arrays. Depending on performance requirements, dedicated solid-state systems like TMS' RamSan family are available in DRAM and NAND flash configurations, giving customers more performance configuration options. Unlike disk array vendors with nascent solid-state offerings, vendors like TMS have a long history of selling solid-state-based storage systems. On the downside, a dedicated solid-state system requires managing another system with its own management tools. Moreover, these systems won't be able to leverage the resilience and features available in high-end disk arrays. And as NAND flash prices decline, adding solid-state storage to an existing array will become more cost-effective than acquiring a separate storage system.

EMC and smaller firms like Nimbus Data Systems have been the first to ship products with a solid-state Tier 0. Other array vendors haven't committed to a solid-state offering, but are keeping watch. "Hitachi Data Systems is currently exploring support for SSD drives," says Roberto

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Basilio, the firm's senior director of enterprise storage product management. Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to offer solid-state storage for its StorageWorks XP24000 array (an OEM product from Hitachi) within the next nine to 18 months, says Patrick Eitenbichler, director of marketing for the StorageWorks Division. And "IBM intends to ship a Tier 0 for its System Storage DS8000 high-end arrays soon," says Barrera.

In the next two to three years, Tier 0 solid-state storage will become a standard array option, but it will come at a premium price and users will deploy it selectively. In the longer term, as $/gigabyte pricing for NAND flash decreases, solid-state drives will begin to replace high-end disk drives, but this isn't likely to happen for at least another five years.

This was first published in July 2008

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