SNW Spring 2010 focuses on SSDs, cloud storage

Discussion about implementing solid-state drives (SSDs) and cloud storage in the enterprise, as well as SNIA's release of a Cloud Data Management Interface, highlight the first day of SNW Spring 2010.

ORLANDO, Fla. – In the absence of major product launches, discussion at Storage Networking World Spring 2010 (SNW Spring 2010) focused largely on solid-state drives (SSDs) and cloud storage as vendors and customers considered the best way to implement these emerging storage technologies.

SSD vendors discussed the various approaches to bringing the technology into storage, while the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) formally approved a Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI) standard on the opening day of SNW Spring 2010.

Is MLC the path for SSDs into the enterprise?

Mike Chenery, co-founder and president at Pliant Technology Inc., said his firm last week began sampling low-cost enterprise multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash SSDs to storage OEM vendors. Chenery said Pliant has two unannounced OEM qualifications for its single-level cell (SLC) SAS Lightning LB Enterprise Flash Drive, but he expects the MLC drives to jumpstart the enterprise SSD market at one-third the price of SLC drives.

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"Storage is always bought based on dollars per gigabyte," Chenery said. "Unless you have better dollars per gigabyte, flash is going to remain a nice idea but it's not going to make it as storage. The SLC price tag still gives people heartburn. Until you get MLCs to work, it will be a slow ramp."

He said the key to making MLCs enterprise-ready is having the processing power to manage the flash. "We monitor the flash and when it starts to wander off the straight and narrow, we manage it back," he said.

Pliant Technology will continue to advance its SLC drives with 6 Gbps SAS coming in mid-year, but expects to see MLC take off first by reducing the price to three or four times that of hard drives.

MLC SSDs were originally developed for consumer use and considered too unreliable for enterprise use, but several vendors have launched what they call enterprise versions of MLC over the past year, including STEC Inc. and Fusion-io.

Kevin Dibelius, SSD marketing manager at Micron Technology Inc., said he disagrees with the notion that MLC drives can currently perform well enough for the enterprise. Next month, Micron Technology will launch its first enterprise SSD, the P300, which is an SLC version of its RealSSD C300 MLC drive for laptops. Dibelius said the P300 will be a 2.5-inch 6 Gbps SATA drive in capacities of 50 GB, 100 GB and 200 GB.

"There's still a problem of endurance for MLCs in the enterprise," he said. "Getting MLC drives to last five years in the enterprise will take some time."

Dibelius said Micron Technology is also working on a PCIe-based flash device, but "we're not yet ready to talk about it."

STEC, which has public OEM deals with EMC Corp., IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. and other large storage vendors for its Fibre Channel (FC) SSDs, also has MLC drives in qualifications with its partners, according to Scott Shadley, STEC's SSD product manager.

"We're looking at a larger capacity and a smaller price point than SLC," he said. "MLC will start to take up a big piece of the market at the end of this year or the start of 2011."

STEC also has SAS and SATA SSDs, and Shadley said he expects the vendor to launch a PCIe-based flash device later this year.

One storage administrator at SNW Spring 2010 said he's looking to implement SSDs but considers flash designed for traditional storage arrays too expensive. Paxton Powers, IT infrastructure manager at Interbank FX, said he's looking at a high-performance RamSan flash device from Texas Memory Systems.

Texas Memory Systems last week launched a RamSan-630 device that holds 10 TB.

"I'm looking at RamSan as high-performance tier zero, and then archive data off that," Powers said. "SSD in the array is not cost-effective; I can get more bang for my buck with RamSan. That way I can also offload processing from the array."

Will standards open the cloud?

The cloud is just about everywhere at SNW, as the conference includes cloud storage tutorials, a cloud pavilion, cloud storage hands-on lab and a clouds Birds of a Feather session.

SNIA's CDMI standard is based on a RESTful HTTP protocol, and is applicable to private, public and hybrid storage clouds. CDMI marks cloud storage containers and data objects with data system metadata to express service-level requirements, allowing data services such as backup, archive, data deduplication and encryption to meet these needs automatically, according to Val Bercovici, a senior director at NetApp's Office of the CTO as well as chair of the SNIA cloud storage initiative.

"This is the first open industry standard for cloud computing or storage," Bercovici said.

The cloud education sessions at SNW Spring 2010 included one hosted by Carnegie Mellon University storage manager David Stevens on making your user base accountable for the cost of cloud storage. "We want to educate users on how much storage costs and to make business decisions based on the cost of that storage," he said. "There's no storage tree out back where you can pluck off an array and throw it in your data center."

Xiotech, SGI launch storage products

On the product front, Xiotech Corp. and SGI launched storage systems.

Xiotech rolled out a NAS system consisting of Symantec Corp.'s FileStore running on Xiotech's ISE blades. The ISE NAS can deliver file-based storage for Xiotech's Emprise storage platform based on ISE technology.

The SGI InfiniteStorage Server 3500 (ISS3500) is a high-density 4U system that supports iSCSI, NAS and iSER protocols and up to 36 SAS, SATA and SSD drives. SGI positions the system for high-performance computing clusters, video surveillance and data warehousing.

SGI product manager Kurt Kuckein said SGI is using SLC SSDs from STEC and Intel in the system and is evaluating MLC drives.


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