Flash Is Hot Right Now, But There’s More to It Than Just High-Speed Storage

Arthur Cole
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Five Best Practices for Disk Drive Storage Decisions

Some interesting maneuvers in the solid-state storage market have taken place over the past month or so, collectively highlighting the fact that the technology still has a lot of room for growth in the enterprise and that its impact will be felt in several key ways.

The first move came from SanDisk, which put up more than $300 million in cash and other goodies for Smart Storage, a developer of SATA- and SAS-based SSD technology. The company will be folded into SanDisk’s Enterprise Storage Solutions unit, which will headed up by former Smart Storage President John Scaramuzzo, with an eye toward spearheading the company’s efforts to improve endurance and reliability of Nand Flash products.

And earlier this week, Western Digital ponied up $685 million for Virident Systems, a developer of server-side Flash solutions such as the FlashMax II that scales up to 2.2 TB and the FlashMax Connect software that enables shared server-side tiering capabilities. The company will be housed within Western Digital’s HGST subsidiary, which itself is the product of the buyout of Hitachi’s Flash storage division in 2011. The idea is to put enterprise-class SSD knowledge and technology into HGST’s line-up in order to better position the unit to capitalize on the growing demand for high-speed storage in the data center.


Demand for Flash solutions is likely to increase now that high-speed interfaces are starting to hit the channel. PMC recently unveiled the Adaptec Series 8, a 12Gbps SAS adapter that provides more than 700,000 4k random read IOPS, which is a 60 percent jump over today’s 6Gbps solutions. The system is available in various low-profile internal/external port configurations, as well as a back-up module, and provides backward compatibility to existing 6G infrastructures using either SSD or HDD storage. And with the company’s existing lines of I/O protocol controllers, RAID-on-Chip controllers, SAS expanders and other devices, PMC now boasts an end-to-end 12G SAS architecture.

But probably the most interesting development in the solid-state storage space of late is Cisco’s decision to acquire Whiptail, known for the Accela and Invicta flash storage arrays that scale up to 360TB. With a networking company like Cisco now in control of serious high-speed storage capacity, the momentum behind converged, modular infrastructure is likely to hit full stride over the next year or so. Whiptail will become part of Cisco’s Computing Systems Product group, which is tasked with bringing together compute, networking and storage platforms as unified, highly scalable, data-handling modules. As more computing loads wind up on the cloud, the need for massive scale-out infrastructure is likely to increase, and a traditional networking company like Cisco needs an all-in-one solution to accommodate cloud providers looking to duplicate the Amazon/Google model.

To say that Flash is hot in the enterprise right now is something of a misnomer. Flash is hot only to the extent that it supports high-density, scale-out infrastructure in general, particularly for large enterprises looking to leverage legacy systems for new private and hybrid cloud architectures. Storage companies will probably see a fairly brisk business over the next few years helping the enterprise add server-side Flash and high-speed tiering technology as they transition to the cloud, but the real action is likely to be in modular systems that allow for rapid deployment and simplified management of physical-layer infrastructure.

Cloud providers in particular are desperate to scale up and out in a hurry, and they don’t want to bother with all the complexity that comes with traditional data center architectures.



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