Start-up to offer SSDs for enterprise arrays

By Kevin Komiega

—The argument against deploying solid-state disk (SSD) devices on a large scale has always been one of cost, but there is a start-up with a plan to put a new class of high-performance SSD storage devices into enterprise storage arrays at a price that competes with that of traditional hard disk drives.

Pliant Technology recently announced it has received $8 million in Series A funding to drive the development of a new class of SSDs for the enterprise market. The company is currently developing a line of Enterprise Flash Drive (EFD) devices designed to deliver significantly higher levels of performance while meeting the growing need for increased energy efficiency and reliability in the enterprise.

Pliant CEO Amyl Ahola says hard-drive performance has leveled off and is creating serious issues in enterprise data centers. "People have to significantly overprovision hard drives and are putting in two, three, or four times more capacity than they really need just to meet performance requirements. They are paying significant penalties for hard drives and everything that comes with them."

Ahola contends the cost of SSDs has dropped enough to make them a viable technology for enterprise storage arrays, and the integration of SSDs into disk arrays could lead to a re-definition of how storage systems are designed.

"System caches are primarily designed to solve hard drive performance problems. With SSDs, there is no need for cache. Cache is expensive so there is the potential for real cost savings," says Ahola. "Users are putting pressure on systems integrators and storage vendors o do something about the performance problem. The answer is a semiconductor storage device."

According to Ahola, the cost of Pliant's products "will map with what is happening in the flash storage market."

However, Ahola says Pliant is not out to replace hard drives, but to pair high-capacity drives with speedy EFDs to handle high-performance applications.

"Our initial products will look like hard drives and plug into a typical slot in a rack that a hard drive would. They will have the same interface and will be compatible with existing software," says Ahola.

Pliant is on schedule to produce alpha and beta testing units this summer, with general availability of production units in the fall. The EFDs will be sold through OEM partners.

Ahola, formerly the CEO of TeraStor and a vice president at both Seagate and Control Data, is joined on the executive team by industry veterans such as Jim McCoy, co-founder of Maxtor and Quantum, and former Fujitsu executives Mike Chenery, Doug Prins, and Aaron Olbrich.

According to Barry Eggers, general partner of Lightspeed Venture Partners, the lead investor in Pliant's funding round, the company's approach to SSD technology exceeds the performance of existing solutions.

"Rotating disk drives, one of the last bastions of moving parts in the data center, will start to feel the heat as flash-based solutions reach new levels of performance and reliability for the enterprise," says Eggers. "Flash-based storage offers better performance, higher densities, and lower power requirements. However, existing SSD solutions have largely been relegated to niche applications. Pliant's EFD will offer the level of performance and efficiency gains that we believe will help propel flash technology into the enterprise mainstream."

This article was originally published on March 03, 2008