MySpace would use flash as a cache for frequently used data in its databases, as well as for maintaining indexes for search, Buckingham said. The company has tested both single-layer and multilayer products and is attracted to multilayer because it costs less. But MySpace wants to make sure the storage doesn't degrade under the heavy workloads it would be subjected to. Buckingham has been working with several vendors to establish baselines for performance and reliability. Even so, MySpace won't rely on flash for persistent data, such as the actual pictures that users post on their pages. Only about one-twentieth of the company's data would ever be stored on flash, Buckingham said.
"I'm never going to write something to an SSD and hope it lasts forever," Buckingham said.
NetSuite, a provider of on-demand software for uses such as enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and e-commerce, sees flash as a place to store heavily used database information for its customers. That data helps to drive "real-time dashboards" that show NetSuite's medium-sized enterprise customers current information such as their expenses, sales forecasts or number of open customer service tickets, said David Lipscomb, senior vice president of engineering. NetSuite wants to let users refresh the dashboard as frequently as they need it, which can demand a lot of speed if thousands of customers are using their dashboards at the same time. Flash should be ideal, he said.
"When this thing comes along that allows you to make the database so much faster, you say, 'That's something I need to drill on,'" Lipscomb said.
NetSuite is experimenting with flash cards from Fusion-io and finding they offer between two and five times the performance of hard drives, Lipscomb said. SSDs are still too expensive for the company's data-center architecture, which is built around large numbers of standard, inexpensive components, he said.
Despite its benefits, flash storage is expected to remain just one tier of a total storage infrastructure at both traditional and Internet-based enterprises. Aside from questions about long-term reliability, one of the biggest remaining challenges for the technology is how to put the right data in it. Ideally, what resides in flash should be the most urgently needed data at any given time. Vendors are working on software to automatically allocate data to flash, fast hard drives and slower drives. EMC plans to introduce its Fully Automated Storage Tiering software by the end of this year. HP is also working on automated tiering.
Cloud computing companies are likely to be at the cutting edge of overcoming those challenges as they try to keep up with booming Internet activity.
"The decisions they make, or the innovations they create, are likely to change the market in a big way," Forrester's Reichman said.