Solid-state drives based on flash memory are turning up in products from seemingly every hardware vendor these days, signaling that the technology may be inching closer to mass adoption.
"SSDs are at an inflection point right now," says analyst Arun Taneja of the Taneja Group. "After years of incubation and false hopes, we have reached a point where there is adequate supply of reliable SSDs at low prices. ... There's not a single company in the storage industry that is not in some way, shape, or form doing something with SSDs."
Storage vendors such as EMC and NetApp, and server vendors too, are raising the volume in their marketing of flash products. During this month alone, SSD product announcements have come from Texas Memory Systems, Sun, Dell, Pillar Data Systems, Compellent, Fusion-io, and EMC.
STEC, which makes the flash memory used by many of the major storage vendors, announced two weeks ago that 2008 revenue for its ZeusIOPS SSD product line hit $53 million, three times more than in the previous year. Based on current demand, the 2008 total revenue figure will be topped in just the first six months of 2009, STEC says.
Moreover, Intel is shipping solid-state flash drives for use in servers, workstations, and storage devices, and a company named SandForce will emerge from stealth mode in mid-April with a new SSD processor.
Flash memory is about 20 times more expensive per gigabyte than high-end Fibre Channel drives, EMC has noted. But huge advantages in both performance and power efficiency make solid-state worth it for applications that require a high number of IOPS (input/output operations per second). Today, many datacenters buy up a ton of disk drives in order to improve speed, but end up with far more storage space than they need. Flash can deliver a high IOPS rate without wasting disk space, creating a cost-performance advantage, vendors say.
But that doesn't mean the current crop of flash-based products is ready for prime time. Burton Group analyst Gene Ruth says vendors are simply replacing hard disk drives with flash, rather than integrating SSD into the system in a way that takes full advantage of their high performance.