Sun calls for SSD companies to unite on standards

Sun's lead flash technologist said the SSD industry needs a standards organization to progress ahead.

Players in the solid-state drive industry need to unite and establish an umbrella organization that establishes standards that define the technology, like its performance, a Sun Microsystems executive said on Monday.

The SSD industry, while in its infancy, has organizations establishing separate standards around SSD metrics, and there is not enough work being done to standardize them, said Michael Cornwell, lead technologist for flash memory at Sun.

"We don't see a focus among suppliers and vendors like ourselves because everyone looks at their implementation [individually] rather than as an industry implementation," Cornwell said.

A standards organization could help users measure SSDs and their applications, like the performance of SSDs in comparison to hard drives, Cornwell said. SSDs have attracted criticism for being expensive while providing less storage compared to hard drives.

Price-per-gigabyte could continue to be a relative issue when comparing SSDs to hard drives, but SSDs are more about performance than price, Cornwell said. SSDs don't have the capacity of hard-disk drives, but they perform better in certain environments. SSDs could be more relevant for data centers, for example, where it is comparatively faster and more power efficient than hard drives.

"The traditional storage market is completely focused on 'well, what's the cost-per gigabyte?' We look at 'what's the cost for meeting your performance metric' and design systems around that architecture rather than capacity," Cornwell said.

The SSD industry could use an organization like IDEMA (International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association), an organization that sets standards and guidelines for disk development, Cornwell said. IDEMA establishes industry standards and provides guidance on technology to vendors including heads and media in disk drives.

Without mentioning names, Cornwell said Sun is talking to other companies about the development of standards. Last month, Sun worked with Samsung to bump up the durability of SSDs, announcing the development of single-level cell flash chips capable of lasting 500,000 read/write cycles, higher than the 100,000 read-and-write cycles of earlier SLC-based flash memory.

A number of organizations developing SSD standards independently include T13, a committee for the International Committee on Information Technology Standards (INCITS), which defined standards for ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) storage interface. Through standards organization JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council), Seagate and Micron are trying to establish some SSD standards, including the definition of form factors.

SSD adoption will be driven by Web 2.0 applications, Cornwell said. Web 2.0 applications mainly reside in data centers, and distributed applications on SSDs in different nodes could deliver "phenomenal" performance, Cornwell said. For example, delivering cached photo content from an SSD may be quicker than getting it from a disk drive.

Sun has said it will include SSDs in storage products later this year.

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