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1/17/2008
08:00 AM
Terry Sweeney
Terry Sweeney
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Solid State Will Require Deep Pockets

EMC's trying to break some new ground by adding flash-based, solid-state drives (SSDs) to its high-end Symmetrix arrays. The thinking is that these high performance drives can be used for especially processing-intensive applications (think database backup and replication) or for data that's frequently accessed.

EMC's trying to break some new ground by adding flash-based, solid-state drives (SSDs) to its high-end Symmetrix arrays. The thinking is that these high performance drives can be used for especially processing-intensive applications (think database backup and replication) or for data that's frequently accessed.The vendor has positioned the technology as ideal for "Tier Zero" applications, putting it above the stuff that enterprises consider most strategic, like e-mail and file server backup.

If you're coming to this fresh, you might be thinking, "Cool! Finally an affordable way to really implement tiered storage, beyond the usual designations of "Critical" and "Everything Else."

And that's where you're likely to be terribly wrong. EMC and its SSD supplier, STEC, aren't quoting any prices just yet. But as my esteemed colleague James Rogers reported Monday, a conventional 1-Tbyte hard drive costs about $550, while an SSD with similar capacity may run more than $10,000 -- a hefty premium, even in a sector that's never been shy about making customers pay for performance gains.

So just what sort of customers, sectors, or applications need to step up to 20-microsecond access, leaving behind that sluggish and pokey 5-millisecond time for hard drives? The party line of "any transaction processing application" sounded kinda lame to me. Here's what EMC told me in an e-mail today when I asked:

-- Algorithmic and automated electronic trading -- Currency exchange and arbitrage -- Trade optimization and reconciliation -- Real-time data/feed processing -- Contextual Web advertising -- Online order processing -- Credit-card validation and fraud detection -- Real-time transaction systems -- Mainframe transaction processing facilities (TPFs) -- Data modeling

If you need pork bellies prices faster than the next exchange, paying 18 times as much as you'd pay for a conventional hard drive is likely be a nonissue. Like much of the industry, and certainly EMC's competitors, I'm curious to see the uptake of SSD, due out on the Symmetrix boxes before the end of March.

How will EMC competitors respond? Hopefully not in the same way they rushed to market (or to their marketing departments) with the half-assed efforts that we saw when data life-cycle management software or storage virtualization gear was first making headlines. If I were a betting man, I'd say the odds are pretty solid we'll be hearing from HP, Hitachi and IBM pretty soon about the merits of SSD. Better to cover that checkbox now than get beaten up by the market and institutional investors next quarter, especially with all that potential new revenue on the table.

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