High-end flash drive goes mainstream

High-end flash drive goes mainstream

Summary: EMC, the largest external data storage vendor, announced yesterday that it has started selling a high-end flash drive for its big-iron storage arrays. Is this the beginning of the end for disks?

TOPICS: Hardware

EMC, the largest external data storage vendor, announced yesterday that it has started selling a high-end flash drive for its big-iron storage arrays. Is this the beginning of the end for disks?

The story EMC has sourced a drive from STEC, Inc. a company you may know from their former SimpleTech consumer storage brand. But they sold that off and are focusing on flash Solid State Disks (SSDs).

The ZeusIOPS drive is a drop-in replacement for the magnetic disks in an EMC Symmetrix array. Starting at around $100k and going up to over a million, Symmetrix arrays are a common sight in corporate data centers for high-volume transaction processing.

Since a single SSD can handle more I/O per second (IOPS) than 75 hard drives - 17,000 - the SSD is a good fit for certain I/O intensive workloads such as database transaction logs. I estimate EMC is charging over $25k for a 146 GB SSD, so it better be good for something!

All flash drives are not created equal If you check out my articles on the hype around flash drives (scroll down to the charts) you'll see that I've been critical of the hype around current notebook flash drives. Most come up short in real-life application performance.

But the problem isn't flash - it is the engineering that builds flash into a disk-like product. Flash has major problems - like the requirement to erase an entire block before writing anything to it - that require careful engineering and costly silicon to hide.

The beginning of the end? Not even close. SSDs have been around for decades while disk sales have surged. Using flash makes them more compact and power efficient than the older RAM-based models, but the concept is no different and the performance actually worse than RAM.

What is different is that a major storage company is now going to actually educate their risk-averse corporate customers about the benefits of SSDs. IMHO, it makes more sense to place costly, high-performance storage on a network where it can serve dozens of arrays, rather than just one.

The good news for the rest of us is that the engineering that's gone into these high-end drives will trickle down to our humble consumer SSDs. Then we may see the benefits vendors have been promising us for years.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topic: Hardware

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  • Sorry, what mainstream are you referring to?

    We currently have both flash and DRAM SSDs in our storage architecture, they've been there for several years. They are in both HP and EMC arrays. We use DRAM SSDs for high-volume high-volatility data, and Flash SSDs for high-volume low-volatility data. The cost of Flash SSDs are certainly better, but as you point out, there are some drawbacks and limitations.

    I don't think that the vendors are going to dramatically improve the functional capabilities of flash disks in the next 2-3 years. The engineering focus is on packaging density; getting GBs of flash into a usable/economical form factor.
    terry flores
    • I'd like to learn more.

      AFAIK, EMC is the first vendor to support SSDs of either flavor on a high-end array.
      While the military has used flash drives for some time, they've been costly and not
      particularly fast. As you noted they are suitable for high-volume, low-volatility

      Flash drive engineers certainly believe that flash drive performance can be significantly improved. While I could be wrong, I believe smart flash companies will
      push to improve flash drive performance for competitive differentiation. Most of
      the focus is on write performance, especially when the drive is already populated
      with deleted files. Will the difference be dramatic? A matter of opinion, but it is
      certainly feasible.

      R Harris
  • Disks aren't dying for a long time.

    "Is this the beginning of the end for disks?"

    I'm sorry - does it have a terabyte of storage for a reasonable cost? If the answer is "no," then you are only fooling yourself. Disks have - and will probably always have - an advantage in sheer capacity for the same price.

    "Starting at around $100k and going up to over a million"

    Other than houses, anything that costs $100k is not what I'd ever ever call "mainstream."

    "The beginning of the end?
    Not even close."

    Now you've got the idea. If a flash drive costs $100k, there's no way it's going to even touch hard drives.

    "The good news for the rest of us is that the engineering that???s gone into these high-end drives will trickle down to our humble consumer SSDs."

    Maybe - if they can get the price down. I doubt very many consumers have $100k lying around.
    • Solid State Flash

      I dont think I would ever want to pay that much money. However if there was a Flash drive at the low end like 5-10 gigs that might be possible. I have a 2 gig flash drive in my pocket. So that is feasable. Might be enough for speeding up loading and unloading of certain files. First there would have to be proof that there would be an actual improvement and an endurance test.

      For portable devices 2-10 gigs might be the best possible choice. That way it would be solid state and more durable.
      • I have an 8Gb MicroSD card.

        They are about the size of 1/6th of a postage stamp.

        64Gb SSDs are available now in the $800 range and they've been coming down steadily.

        Their outstanding (zero) latency and read speeds, and write speeds which are also considerably quicker, plus zero vibration, zero noise, zero heat and very low power consumption make them very attractive.

        I think the Disk's days are numbered. It may take 2-3 years, maybe 5, but flash looks on track to take over.
  • RE: High-end flash drive goes mainstream

    Any solid state drives will be sub-par or at best slightly better than disk drives until the method of accessing them is changed. Until the drive is treated like memory access you are still hobbled by the interface bus. We need to rethink the use of all storage and redesign to get the best benefits. I think that the best use of SSD would be for program/aplication storage, including OS. This would allow for instant on and also on to last state. It also would greatly reduce program load times and speed up the funtionality of many applications. Storage on servers should be a separate design from on PCs or Workstations.

    Just some thoughts!
  • RE: High-end flash drive goes mainstream

    This does not make sense?

    I estimate EMC is charging over $25k for a 146 GB SSD, so it better be good for something!
    This is about $171.00 per gig which seems a bit high to me.

    I wonder how they justify that cost?

    I think maybe that is about 300% markup. I wonder how much profit they make off of that?
  • RE: High-end flash drive goes mainstream

    Interesting but not here at the consumer level yet. In fact past experience shows that lots of things hung on mainframes never really make it to the consumer level.

    Remember Magnetic optical drives? Certain Apple machines were as close as they got to being true general consumer items. And except on clearance they were always 2-3 times as expensive as standard magnetic drives per byte.

    Plus technology trickle down takes a long long time in general. In general it takes 10-15 years for new mainframe technology to hit the high end of consumer items and then still too expensive for all but the rich or special applications. There are hard drive tricks from the research labs that I read about 25 years ago that are just now trickling down into consumer goods. In fact so many are still in the pipeline that SSD will have competition for some time.

    At the absolute best I would not expect to see direct impact of "super" flash drives replacing hard drives at the consumer level as stated above for 7-8 years. There are still problems with "wear", price and integration to overcome. But I do expect to see flash drives become major backup media replacing incremental tapes in say 6-8 years.

    And I am still waiting for that jukebox hologram crystal memory announced in 1996 to hit the shelves. If it does this type of SSD wouldn't have much place except for checkpointing current CPU and RAM states.
  • Way too pricey

    It's great that the SSD storage capacity is rising but with it is the insanely high price tag. People praise SSD as the future replacement of current hard drives but how in the world can this ever happen with SSD's currently insanely high price tags??? This just doesn't seem realistic until the pricetag equals that of consumer hard drives....

    - John Musbach
    John Musbach
  • RE: High-end flash drive goes mainstream

    big possibility, technology doesn't stop
  • SSD's will penetrate from the top and bottom..not the middle

    SSD's will likely be >50% of laptop drives by end of year. The benefits on shock, thermal, etc is a perfect match. Most people don't need more than 64GB of laptop memory. SSD's will thrive here. Apple will <again> lead the way with this trend.

    At the top end, the #1 failure of servers is disk drive crash. This where SSD's will penetrate from the top over time. Cost is no object <period>. The middle is where the volume is but will be HDD territory for many years. Cost per bit, density are desirable attributes in the volume space.

    I think you might have an error is assuming block erases is required in SSD's. These are NAND based where row erases are the means. Over time, this requirement will go away as new technologies will allow bit alterability as is true for new Phase Change Memory out next year to replace NAND/
  • RE: High-end flash drive goes mainstream

    The major feature of SSD over HD, is "No Defragmentation Needed"! Cause the SSD has no moving parts, and has no delay to access any sector of the drive (All sectores has the same and fast access time).