Storage Soup

Jan 16 2008   5:52PM GMT

If EMC releases solid-state drives in a forest…

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

As soon as EMC’s announcement that it had added support for solid-state drives (SSDs) to Symmetrix crossed the wire, guess who called? If you’ve been watching the storage space, you know it had to be Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), whose high-end USP array has been do-si-doing around Symmetrix in the high-end disk array market for the last year and a half.

Turnabout’s fair play for HDS–as soon as it beat EMC to thin provisioning with the announcement of the USP-V last September, EMC went on the attack while both storage giants ignored the fact that they’d been soundly beaten to the feature by startups. I had a brief chat with HDS chief scientist Claus Mikkelsen yesterday, to see what HDS had to say about EMC’s blue-ribbon finish in the race to “tier zero.”

Generally when vendors gather to pooh-pooh one another’s products, they take one of two tacks: either poke holes in the soundness of the technology (EMC’s tactic in the earliest days of USP-V) or say there’s no market for it. In this case, HDS has taken the latter approach.

“Hitachi was in the solid-state disk business and the demand was very, very slight,” Mikkelsen began. Further questioning revealed that Hitachi’s disk division was offering standalone solid-state devices in the late 90′s…not quite the same business as flash drives embedded in an array, but I heard him out.

“Currently, flash has a limited number of writes before its memory layers wear out, and the use is limited to applications which are almost 100% very random reads,” he continued. “Even if EMC ships 10,000 solid state drives this year, it’s only .25 percent of their total shipments.”

Sour grapes? Maybe. “The drives they’re using have a SATA interface, you should be able to just pop them into any array,” Mikkelsen sniffed. “If they’ve created a market here, we’ll just jump right in.”

But out of curiosity, I also called a user for a major telecom which is a petabyte-plus EMC shop. This user and I have gotten into the nitty-gritty about performance-tuning storage before, and performance is king in his transaction-heavy environment. If this guy isn’t buying in, I thought, then who is?

Turns out he isn’t. “I think it’s great someone’s trying to make progress in this space–it’s been ignored,” he said. But even for his blue-chip company (he didn’t want it named in conjunction with his vendor), the whopping price tag for solid state drives is too much. “It has yet to get to the point where it’ll balance against savings on Tier 1 storage,” he said, though he admitted he has yet to do an in-depth analysis. “There might be certain cases…if we were less budget constricted or the timing was right, like we were going through a product refresh, we might look at it sooner, but for me this year, it’s not going to happen.”

EMC says it has the solid-state drives in beta tests in several of its “household name” customers’ shops. But did those shops pay for the drives? Did they pay full price? Will they put them into production? We don’t know for right now–EMC says they’re not available for interviews.

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