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Texas Memory Systems rolls out all-Flash disk array

The RamSan vendor is hoping to attract price-conscious users to SSDs with a 2U, 5 TB NAND-Flash JBOD.

Texas Memory Systems Inc. launched the RamSan-620, an all-Flash version of its memory-based disk arrays in an effort to sweeten the solid-state drive (SSD) deal for customers concerned about cost.

At $88,000 for a 2 TB model and $220,000 for 5 TB, the array costs more than most hard drive-based disk arrays, but it's less expensive than DRAM-based RamSan offerings such as the $1.5 million RamSan-5000. Texas Memory Systems claims the RamSan-5000 can achieve up to 1 million IOPS, while internal testing of random writes using 4 K blocks on the RamSan-620 resulted in 250,000 IOPS.

The RamSan-620 is the first product from Texas Memory Systems without DRAM, which brings down the price. "The cost per usable gigabyte of high-performing hard disk drive systems is between $35 and $50," said Woody Hutsell, Texas Memory Systems' president. "Our list price [for the RamSan-620] is about $40 per gigabyte, in line with the price per gigabyte of the RamSan-20."

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The RamSan-20 is a PCIe card with 450 GB Flash capacity that launched last month -- its list price is approximately $18,000. The RamSan-620 uses the same cards to pack Flash into the chassis, but they're attached to Texas Memory Systems' proprietary backplane rather than to a RAID controller or PCIe card. The "Flash JBOD" approach uses error correction codes to maintain data integrity.

Despite all of the hype for Flash-based products, real adoption is still not widespread. Users have said they're particularly concerned with the cost per gigabyte of Flash, and some will wait until its pricing is on par with hard disk drives, despite vendors' arguments that the cost per IOPS of SSDs is better than using overprovisioned hard disk systems.

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group, said some users may like Texas Memory Systems' approach of a standalone Flash device for "tier zero" performance needs. "You don't have to buy a big disk array to get the Flash capacity," he said. "You can deploy [the RamSan-620] or the PCIe card for the tip of the iceberg that might need the performance."

However, Schulz cautioned that determining which data to slot into tier zero might be a tricky proposition. "Insight is key," he said. Third-party storage resource management (SRM) or network monitoring tools might be necessary.

There has also been uncertainty about what shape the adoption of SSDs will take with the economy in turmoil, particularly in the financial sector. These companies are often the early adopters of high-performance technology. "As you'd expect, we've seen a decrease in purchases out of the financial industry," Texas Memory Systems' Hutsell said, but he added that sales to telecoms, e-commerce sites and the federal government have increased.

"End users are looking at the technology, but there's still the cost aspect," Schulz said. "There's been a recent bandwagon declaring that disk drives will be dead in the next two or three years at the hands of solid-state drives, except for the highest capacity points. Add a zero to that number—it'll be more like 20 years. But there's been a lot of trash talk."

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