Sometimes, the speed at which new technologies burst onto the enterprise scene is enough to give you whiplash. Virtualization is a case in point, going from a relatively obscure mainframe technology at the beginning of the decade to the predominant infrastructure platform of today, displacing nothing less than the operating system in importance.
Now it looks like the same thing is happening in storage, judging by the headlong rush into solid-state (SSD) technology this year, not just for laptops and other mobile devices but in the enterprise as well.
Sun Microsystems looks like it wants to stay ahead of the curve with plans to link SSDs to practically its entire line of enterprise systems, both hardware and software, and use them for the bulk of its services as well. The company has announced plans to bring out its own line of SSDs, although it has yet to provide details. Top executives at Sun are convinced that SSDs will play a major role in the enterprise sooner, rather than later.
Sun and others are no doubt impressed by the gains that SSDs are making in the portable devices market. Intel recently introduced an 8 GB version of its Z-P230 drive and is expecting a 16 GB version by the end of this year, followed by a 32 GB drive early next year. SanDisk just released a 16 GB version of its SSD for the ultra-mobile market.
For the enterprise, though, all eyes are on Seagate, which has finally announced its plans to introduce an enterprise SSD next year after several years of experimenting with hybrid hard disk/Flash designs. In all likelihood, Seagate will tailor its SSDs specifically to applications that require fairly low storage capacity but high I/O. It's a cautious approach, but Seagate has been burned by "the next big thing" in storage before. Remember the Quinta acquisition more than a decade ago, when it looked like optical drives were about to take over?
This time, though, hardly anyone thinks SSDs will wrest the enterprise fully from hard disks. IDS' latest report on the subject says SSDs will appeal to only specific applications -- again, those requiring faster throughput -- leaving the HDD market with a healthy growth curve for the foreseeable future.
Gartner is on largely the same page. In this article, John Monroe, research VP for storage technology, points out that a 2.5-inch, 500 GB hard drive will cost OEMs as little as 17 cents per GB in the coming year, with even the higher-end 1 TB drives coming in at 48 cents per GB. The best SSDs can do right now is about $1.17 per GB, but because Flash doesn't scale as efficiently as hard disks, increases in capacity will match the increase in cost. In other words, if you double the storage, you double the cost.
SSDs will no doubt play a crucial role in the enterprise, and there is every possibility that you'll be hard-pressed to find a data center without one in a few short years. But a little perspective is in order. They are most definitely not taking over.