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

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
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

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?