When flash or solid state drives (SSDs) appeared on the scene a couple of years back, they were primarily used as high-performance caches that could accelerate access to disk media. But that is changing.
"Now we're seeing announcement after announcement in which suppliers are deploying solid state memory as part of storage servers," said By Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with Kusnetzky Group. "Sometimes, solid state storage is used as a cache in the storage array or server. Other times, this type of storage is used to replace rotating media."
A flurry of startups have recently sprung up around SSD products. But it isn't only startups. Companies like EMC have also come out with new flash products.
1. Pure Storage
Pure Storage is staking a claim in the burgeoning flash storage arena. It launched in August 2011 with the Pure Storage FlashArray. The company is attempting to eliminate the cost barrier to flash adoption. Its array combines flash with traditional disk array features, such as high availability and scalability. It prices this lower than typical disk arrays while claiming to be 10 times faster and 10 times more power and space efficient. The Pure Storage FlashArray includes deduplication. It has already secured $55 million in venture capital.
Yet another launch of a solid-state product, this time combined with RAM, Kaminario K2 high solid-state SAN is designed to eliminate I/O bottlenecks, reduce latency and increase throughput. The company touts its Scale-out Performance Storage Architecture (SPEAR), which mixes and matches flash and RAM via the Kaminario SPEAR storage OS.
The company claims it delivers millions of IOPS and ultra-low latency that can be used to boost applications without compromising on high availability. This allows organizations to move data from the most performance-demanding applications to Kaminario's K2. The company offers three models with various amounts of RAM and SSD.
3. Smart Storage
Smart Storage Systems, a spin-off of Smart Modular Technologies, launched just last month in the SSD market with aggregated flash management and signal processing technologies. Its Optimus Ultra Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) SSD is aimed at the enterprise market with features such as read/write performance of 100K/60K IOPS and a sustained transfer rate of 1GB/s in wide port operation. The company boasts that it can do this while achieving 25 full random drive writes per day for a period of five years using only consumer-grade multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash. It is available in capacities ranging from 150GB to 1.2TB.
"By taking cost-effective MLC flash and optimizing endurance at the cell level with our Guardian Technology Platform, Optimus Ultra SSDs deliver the endurance, performance, reliability and capacity enterprise organizations require at a more attractive price point," said John Scaramuzzo, president at Smart Storage Systems.
GreeenBytes is best known as a developer of inline deduplication data storage. Now, it has come out with Solidarity, a high availability SSD array aimed at SMEs. It promises capacities greater than disk arrays using the GreenBytes GO OS (Globally Optimized Operating System). It also includes deduplication and compression. Solidarity is being offered from 3.5 TB (15 TB effective) to 13.5 TB (60 TB effective), and it is said to be capable of delivering 120,000 4K IOPS.
"With features including high availability and global inline deduplication and compression for replication, the GreenBytes Solidarity platform is a fresh architectural approach to an all-SSD solution and is certainly a product to watch in this growing space," said Deni Connor, an analyst at Storage Strategies Now.
5. EMC VFCache
Let's balance this all out by highlighting one of the many announcements from established storage players who are by no means sitting back and letting the young guns walk all over them in the SSD market. EMC recently came out with VFCache, which combines a 300 GB PCIe flash card with intelligent caching management as a means of bringing caching closer to the application while relying on larger scale direct attached and SAN block storage for the rest of the data.
"Unlike others who also offer PCIe SSD cards, such as FusionIO, with a focus on eliminating SANs or other storage, EMC is going mainstream and using PCIe SSD cards as a cache to compliment theirs as well as other vendors storage systems," said Greg Schulz, an analyst at StorageIO Group. "EMC is bringing the SSD message to the mainstream business and storage marketplace showing how it is a compliment to, vs. a replacement of, existing storage systems. By doing so, they will show how to spread the cost of SSD out across a larger storage capacity footprint boosting the effectiveness and productive of those systems."
More to Come
By the time this article posts, there will no doubt be another spate of SSD and flash press releases from the big vendors, as well as yet more startups with new architectures hoping to strike the storage mother lode. This makes for exciting times in storage.
"Enterprise organizations and IT shops are flocking to solid-state storage because of the quantum leap in system performance that this technology engenders" said Arun Taneja, analyst with Taneja Group.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).