Flash storage gets enterprise attention as prices decline

Consumer flash popularity, EMC's entry into market combine to drive prices down

The little USB stick on your keychain and the memory in your iPod is fueling a revolution in the enterprise storage world.

It seems everyone is talking about flash memory, a type of solid-state storage that offers faster and more energy-efficient performance than rotating disk drives. The downside is that it's about 20 times more expensive than high-performance Fibre Channel drives, but that's where the popularity of USB sticks and the iPod comes in. Consumers are demanding flash memory and getting it -- in digital cameras, the iPhone, the iPod Touch and even the MacBook Air laptop.

The consumer demand for flash and another major event -- EMC's entry into the enterprise flash market this year -- are combining to drive prices down, making it feasible for enterprise use, experts say.

Big businesses are already starting to use flash storage for I/O-intensive applications, such as Oracle databases, credit card processing systems and stock trading applications. Many observers expect solid-state flash drives to be commonplace in enterprises within a year or two.

"This is the most exciting thing that's happened in storage in 20 years," says John Fowler, the head of Sun's servers and storage division.

Solid state is electrical, unlike rotating drives, which are mechanical and have moving parts that make them inherently slower. Mark Peters, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, compares a spinning hard drive to your hand hovering over a checkerboard. Just as the drive head needs to move over the right piece of data, your hand has to be in the right spot to grab a checker. With flash, however, there are no physical movements and "everything is always immediately available," Peters says.

Direct- or network-attached?

The experience of early adopter Neovest, a financial services firm in Utah, illustrates the benefits of flash memory and one potentially vexing question customers and vendors must wrestle with.

A couple months ago, Neovest purchased a 160-gigabyte flash device for US$4,800 from the start-up Fusion-io, which makes a PCIe flash storage card that's inserted directly into servers.

"As someone who is responsible for processing data and disseminating it out to our clients, we're always looking for ways to be able to handle that data with extremely low latency," says Brandon Farmer, senior network engineer at Neovest.

EMC, however, contends that putting flash directly in the servers is unnecessarily restrictive.

"We put it in the network and make it accessible to multiple hosts," says Bob Wambach, senior director of Symmetrix marketing for EMC. "Anything you put into a server is basically locked to that physical server. It becomes less flexible, less dynamic and adaptable."

Farmer acknowledges that the lack of network accessibility is limiting, saying "we could use some shared storage for databases."

But in order to get maximum speeds, the flash storage must be near the server, says Michael Workman, president and CEO of storage vendor Pillar Data Systems.

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Brodkin

Network World
Show Comments

Essentials

Mobile

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?