Sun Microsystems Inc. today launched a module for holding NAND chips that looks more like a server memory module than a disk drive, and added support for small form factor (SFF) Intel Corp. solid-state drives (SSDs) across its server product lines.
Graham Lovell, senior director, open storage at Sun, described the new Open Flash Module as the basis for a new standardization effort at Sun that aims to push solid-state storage away from disk form factors. It consists of 24 GB of Flash chips attached to a small board with the same footprint and style as a small outline dual in-line memory module (SO-DIMM).
"It's able to be integrated in much smaller different devices than if it used a disk drive interface," Lovell said.
Lovell said the memory form factor is already a standard, and Sun would be working to get NAND adopted into that standard.
A Sun spokesperson wrote in an email to SearchStorage.com that Samsung has committed to build a module based on Sun's specifications. The spec is also being released "potentially [to] OpenSolaris.org…and it will also be released to a number of standards bodies."
Industry sources said Sun is also planning another device, code-named Lightning, that would pack many of the Open Flash Modules into a separate server. The device would be similar to what Violin Memory Inc. offers with its Violin 1010 memory appliance—a set of chips arrayed redundantly for reliability and used to front a slower device to boost performance. Similar devices are also offered by Gear6 and NetApp. Sun officials wouldn't confirm or deny these plans when asked for comment.
Andrew Reichman, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, said he wasn't familiar with the Lightning plans, but said it wouldn't surprise him to see Sun packaging SSDs every way it can while the market develops.
"I get the impression they're trying to put many things out there to see what sticks," he said. "I think it's a good idea because there's uncertainty as to how exactly SSD deployments are going to go yet. It might be more efficient to have a globally available cache for servers that doesn't require whole LUNs [logical unit numbers] to be put on Flash like solid-state disk drives do. Then again, it's lower risk to just go to STEC [Inc.] and slot a drive into an existing array."
New support for Intel SSDs catches user's eye
Sun is also adding support for 2.5-inch Intel X-25E SSDs on all its servers, as well as its previously announced support for 3.5-inch STEC SSDs on Sun's Storage 7000 line of open storage products. Some of Sun's x64 and CMT systems are available for free 60-day trials through a "Try and Buy" program, with discounts ranging from 20% to 40% if the system is purchased.
Jason Williams, chief technology officer at DigiTar, which is an early adopter of Sun's open storage products, said the Intel drives are appealing because they're less expensive and more widely available than STEC's.
"A lot of Solaris folks are starting to use X-25 Es," he said. "STEC drives can be almost impossible to get your hands on unless you're an OEM."
Williams said he planned to deploy the X-25 E for read cache on some of his open storage devices. "I've seen them perform almost as fast as DRAM," he said.