Raising the Bar for Enterprise Flash

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Concurrent with the arrival of solid-state disk drives (SSDs) into enterprise settings is the increasing use of flash memory in high-end storage arrays.

While in itself that might not be a big deal, some of these new solutions are bringing impressive performance to networked storage. With advanced management techniques and wide-area pooling capabilities, new flash-based systems can deliver both speed and capacity at levels that were the stuff of dreams only a few years ago.

NextIO is one of the front-runners in this trend. The company just released the vSTOR S100, a tier 0 system built on the ioMemory system from Fusion-io. The package delivers 1.7M IOPS in sizes up to 5 TB, all while drawing less than 300 watts. A key component is the vConnect I/O virtualization system, which allows the vSTOR to dynamically allocate storage between multiple servers, so there's no need to over-provision each server with dedicated flash cards.

Meanwhile, Texas Memory Systems is pushing capacity limits to 10 TB in the new RamSan-630, matched by a sustained IOPS rate of 500,000. The system is currently available with ten 4 Gb Fibre Channel links, with plans for 8 Gb FC in the next few months, followed by a QDR InfiniBand version capable of delivering 8 GBps aggregated bandwidth.

And it probably wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on Toshiba to see how it intends to leverage its recent investment in flash specialist Violin Memory. Toshiba is fresh from the acquisition of Fujitsu's disk drive unit, so it should be interesting to see if the company can find any synergy between the two, most likely through the use of the high-speed PCIe bus.

Of course, this being the high-tech industry, rarely does a dynamic new technology hit the channel without an even more advanced system waiting in the wings. In the case of flash, that would be memristor, a transistor design from the 1970s that can maintain data integrity even in the absence of power. HP has been tinkering with the technology for a number of years and now appears close to releasing something, although it's hard to say exactly what at this point. Most likely, it will be a smaller, yet more powerful memory device with initial applications in USB drives and mobile devices. However, its greater life span would be particularly welcome in enterprise settings.

The key factor in enterprise-class flash memory is speed, but there's something to be said for expansive capacity as well. With the ability to pool flash resources just like traditional storage, enterprises will see entirely new dimensions in high availability, even for the largest of data sets.