Battle of the SSD strategies: Sun vs. EMC

Living information takes on the dot in dot-com

Flash bigger than VMware

Sun EVP John Fowler and Michael Cornwell, Sun's lead on SSD technologies, think 'that the introduction of flash would have a broad impact on server and data center infrastructure, and predicted that solid state disks will have a larger and more rapid impact on servers and data center efficiency than virtualization, creating the largest change in storage price/performance this decade.'

Fowler has said: "We're far down the track of rethinking servers and storage, and speeding up the I/O subsystem is a huge efficiency boost."

That's the key differentiator. Sun sees flash as speeding up the server I/O subsystem. EMC sees flash as speeding up the storage array's I/O.

Which way will other vendors in the storage market jump?

Storage array vendors will only be able to use flash to accelerate their array's I/O rates. Where they use proprietary controller architectures then it is possible they could use flash as a form of cache between the controller's DRAM and the disk drives. But they cannot optimize the general server-storage array I/O area because they don't have any control over server hardware architectures.

Other storage market vendors with server product lines are surely bound to understand the same flash accelerative effects on a server's I/O subsystem as Sun. The likelihood here is that Dell, HP and IBM will all add in similar flash level 3 or 4 caches between main memory and storage. They will be able to, as it were, combine the Sun and the EMC approaches.

Dell, for example, might add a flash cache to its servers and also add a flash tier zero to its EqualLogic PS storage arrays getting a double benefit. HP could do the same with its in-house arrays. Any server/storage supplier using OEM-sourced arrays from, say, Dot Hill, LSI or Xyratex, is going to have to work with them to achieve a flash tier zero storage element in those arrays.

A server-only vendor, and Intel can loosely be characterised as such, not making hard drive arrays, can follow the Sun route and add flash cache to its server motherboards. We might expect an effort similar to the Storage Bay Bridge working group to standardise a flash cached server's interface with a storage array and make this an open and standard interface.

Logically we could envisage flash cache-enabled PCs as well.

Exciting times, and it's going to stay exciting for many, many months yet.

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