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EMC does flash drives on big storage

Symmetrix goes solid

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EMC will be the first major storage vendor to add solid-state drives for its high-end gear. The company said it will offer flash-based memory from STEC in its Symmetrix DMX-4 systems by the end of March.

Solid-state drives (SSDs) prove speedier and less energy consumptive than traditional spinning disk storage. But the astronomic price hike over spinners has kept most mainstream storage makers from offering them. That said, it now seems clear that the big boys will move to offer SSDs as prices fall.

EMC will grease the SSD bandwagon's wheels with 73GB and 146GB units for its top tier arrays. The drives use single-layer flash memory — a type more reliable than the flash commonly used in portable devices, but with less capacity. EMC claims the more reliable memory combined with with error-checking codes will safeguard the storage enough for data center use.

The drives, however, aren't for everyone. Bob Wambach, EMC's Symmetrix senior director of product marketing, said the drives could get about 30 times the IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) of a high performance Fibre channel drive - at, gulp, 30 times the price.

"To be realistic about this," said Wambach, "there are a small number of applications that will run on these drives in the immediate term."

EMC sees the drives initially being useful for industries where a millisecond can make a huge difference. For example, automated electronic trading, where an application needs to process real-time feeds to conclude if a stock is a buy or sell opportunity.

The company won't get into specifics about price. Consider the saying, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."

Wambach said the company expects to see a price erosion for the drives over time. And as the price begins to fall at a greater speed than mechanical disks, the number of applications for the technology will increase.

The move — even if premature — will give EMC time to needle rivals such as Hitachi Data Systems, HP and IBM, which have yet to offer SSDs with their large systems. So don't be surprised to see similar announcements in more top-tier disk arrays in the near future. Rivals will only tolerate ribbing for so long. ®

Bootnote

The publicity stunt nature of EMC's announcement was made all too clear by the vendor leaking word of the SSDs to the Wall Street Journal. As you know, savvy high-end storage buyers everywhere check the WSJ every day for the latest in Storage Area Network technology.

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