2009: The Year for SSDs?


Expert opinion has it that 2009 will be a breakthrough year for solid-state disks (SSDs) in the enterprise. And while I wouldn't presume to question the opinion of the experts, the technology still has two major obstacles to overcome if its champions hope to see broad adoption in high-data environments.


There is, of course, every possibility that both of those obstacles -- price and reliability -- could be adequately addressed by this time next year. But until that happens, it's probably best for most enterprises to view SSDs with a certain amount of caution.


To hear from the major vendors, however, SSDs will be everywhere in a short while. The past few months have seen SSD announcements from HP, EMC, Hitachi, Sun, Intel, IBM, NetApp and a host of others. Samsung, already the leader in SSDs for notebooks, is expecting the technology to generate more than $5 billion in annual revenue by 2012, fully half of the entire SSD market in that year. The company is planning a 256 GB server unit next year and is already at work on next-generation SSD controllers and firmware.


This interview with HP's Jeiming Zhu reveals why the attraction level is so high: Major gains in I/O performance and drastic reductions in energy consumption make it an ideal pitch as enterprises seek to maintain operations while cutting overhead. Although Zhu cautions that heavy reliance on solid state will require changes in OS and application coding to accommodate for the lack of sequential read/write technology.


Still, if you are heavily stocked with the most costly types of hard-disk drives, like those that use short-stroking to improve speed, then you might want to consider solid-state technology right now, according to Jim Handy at Objective Analysis. Short stroking significantly reduces storage capacity (a 53 TB array can be reduced to as little as 9 TB), but still falls way short of the IOPS capability of current SSDs. He advises that you run the numbers to see whether SSDs can match your current bandwidth at a reasonable price.


Despite the broad enthusiasm, there are still some words of caution out there. This article on CNET News has SanDisk's Sanjay Mehrotra saying he doesn't expect to see breakthrough price points until the 2010-2011 time frame, while Avian Securities' Avi Cohen expects the worsening economy to dampen demand for more expensive technology, even if it does reduce costs over the long run.


Ultimately, SSDs will be a tremendous boon for the enterprise, and we certainly don't want to discourage anyone from experimenting at this point. But it's still the kind of technology that calls for a go-slow approach.