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Solid-state storage more popular in PCs, disk arrays than servers so far

Early adopters of solid-state storage have used the technology in PCs, laptops and disk arrays, but signs point to the increasing adoption of SSDs in servers.

Most IT shops haven't adopted high-performing solid-state storage yet, but most of them who are testing the waters use solid-state drives (SSDs) in PCs and laptops and their disk arrays.

A TechTarget survey of 209 IT professionals completed in February showed that 35% use solid-state storage in their IT shops. Among those who use SSDs, 43% have solid-state drives in desktop computers and laptops, 30% in traditional storage arrays, 22% in servers, and the remainder split between appliances and solid-state-only arrays.

Overall, their deployments were recent. Half said they've used solid-state storage for less than six months, and 30% reported having it for between six months and one year.

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And, even before corporate adoption picks up steam, the underlying solid-state technology is already trending in directions that could affect the form factors that IT shops choose in the future.

A form-factor forecast from Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. showed that 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch SSDs commanded 93% of the enterprise-class solid-state unit shipments last year, with 2.5-inch SSDs more common in servers and 3.5-inch SSDs more prevalent in storage, often with Fibre Channel (FC) interfaces. PCI Express (PCIe) cards accounted for the bulk of the rest, at just 6%.

But this year's forecast calls for PCIe card shipments to double and continue on their growth curve, taking 24% of the solid-state market in 2013 when all of the enterprise SSD suppliers are expected to have PCIe products available.

Meanwhile, 3.5-inch SSDs will dwindle to 3% by 2013, as 2.5-inch SSDs take control of 66% of the market, according to Gartner's forecast. Joseph Unsworth, a Gartner research director, estimated that 65% of the 2.5-inch drives will be geared toward servers at that point.

"Right now, with enterprise, most of the form factors are centered around replacing the hard drives. That's the lowest hanging fruit," Unsworth said. But he noted that NAND flash-based PCIe cards are drawing considerable attention as a direct-attached option in servers. "That way, you can go direct to the server and have your SSDs serve as a storage network accelerator that can make your applications perform faster," he said.

Another solid-state form factor that Gartner expects will slowly gain popularity is the NAND flash-based dual in-line memory module (DIMM), which is mounted on a printed circuit board. Sun Microsystems Inc., now owned by Oracle Corp., already has been putting sockets into servers to accommodate the thin, small-footprint NAND flash DIMMs, which are as wide as a ruler, three to four inches long, and can be stacked together in a constrained space, closer to the processor, Unsworth said.

"The more storage that you're able to put into a smaller footprint, the more efficient that you can be," he added. "From a form-factor perspective, [DIMM] is probably the smallest footprint, but the enterprise doesn't move fast, and there need to be standards and industry support. It's going to take years before we start to see these things gain momentum."

Unsworth also doesn't expect self-contained solid-state storage appliances to make a major play because of their high cost and the difficulty they face in competition against the major server and storage vendors, which currently have embraced 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch SSDs as replacements for hard disk drives (HDDs).

But, no matter the form factor, industry analysts predict that enterprise adoption of solid-state storage will increase significantly during the next few years, as IT shops try to improve the performance of I/O-intensive applications, such as databases and data warehouses, online transaction processing, Web 2.0, and social networking.

Framingham, Mass.-based IDC predicts the SSD market will grow to more than $2 billion by 2013, at a compound annual growth rate of 77%, as prices drop and IT managers look to boost the effectiveness of their systems, noted Jeff Janukowicz, a research manager in IDC's storage group.

In the meantime, some of the largest IT shops haven't necessarily been contributing to the revenue picture, according to The InfoPro Inc., a New York City research firm. InfoPro's December-January interviews of 55 heads of IT procurement at some of the Fortune 1000's largest storage spenders showed that nearly 39% are currently using or piloting SSD technology, but only 47% had actually paid for it.


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