Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/16/all-flash-arrays/

EMC's all-flash benediction: Turbulence ahead

Who's ready, who's going to have to buy in?

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 16th May 2011 09:24 GMT

Analysis A rising tide lifts all boats and the blessing EMC gave to all-flash arrays at EMC World will be gratefully seized upon by a string of established small players and start-up wannabees such as Pure Storage and SolidFire. But this tide could carry some boats into turbulent waters.

Shared solid state storage has been the preserve of a niche market, one where customers need an in-memory database for their financial arbitrage trading. Seconds, even fractions of a second, count when trying to make money from fast but small changes in market prices for financial instruments or whatever else can be traded on Wall Street or other exchanges. Disk latency is the enemy of such trading applications and DRAM and flash arrays from Texas Memory Systems (TMS), such as its RamSan products, have been the classic storage array product for the company, where lightning fast access from a large data set is the key to an application's success.

Another application area is national security, where the fastest-possible database lookup is needed by communication monitoring systems – whisper the Echelon name – and border control traveller identification applications. Now there are enough customers wanting such applications that EMC is going to offer all-flash VNX and VMAX arrays as standard configurations. The trend for primary data to migrate off hard drives onto flash drives is starting, creating more business for the established flash array players, opportunities for start-ups and problems for the hard disk drive array vendors.

We're going to cast our eye over the field and review the suppliers in it, and offer opinions about what how the established storage array suppliers will react. This is an area looking prime for accelerated development and events could happen quickly.

Shared solid state storage suppliers

TMS initially introduced DRAM-based RamSan products, hence the "ram" in the name, and then added a flash line of RamSans alongside the faster and more expensive DRAM-based ones. It continues to lead the area and its RamSan-630 has just posted whip-cracking SPC-1 performance numbers and price/performance numbers. No other supplier comes close in the SPC-1 rankings to TMS' product performance, for the moment. We think an EMC VMAX all-flash SPC-1 Kaminario makes the K2 DRAM product, for the same market areas that TMS supplies with its DRAM-based RamSans, in-memory database screamers. It is a mid-to-late stage startup, having announced a $15m C-round of funding in May. A flash version of the K2 technology is said to be in development.

Early stage start-ups

What will established suppliers do?

Let's cast our eye over the established storage array players and ask what they will do in the face of the primary data, all-flash array tide washing their way.

Data protection suppliers and wily disk dogs

Totting up, we have six to seven potential acquirers, four mid-to-late stage start-ups or mature suppliers (TMS), and five early-to-mid stage start-ups. Will any of the start-ups make it and become mature, independent businesses? El Reg thinks it unlikely.

We reckon that there will be a host of all-flash array technology company acquisitions over the next 12-24 months as EMC's competitors react to its forcing of the market pace, and they scramble to catch up. EMC has opened the floodgates and, by the end of 2015, the idea of primary data being stored on spinning disk will seem simply archaic. ®