Friday, June 18, 2010

"SSD week" recap

June 18, 2010 – I don’t think it’s purely coincidental, but there was an uncharacteristic amount of rapid-fire announcements related to solid-state disk (SSD) drives this week. Three SSD startups launched (with two based in Israel). There was one SSD-related acquisition. And one vendor trumpeted the now familiar tune, “MLC SSDs are as good as SLC SSDs.”

In short, four interesting SSD announcements in the course of three days. And all four articles covering those announcements made the Most Popular Articles list on this week. The industry analysts must be right about increased end-user interest in SSDs, although 39% of visitors have no plans for using SSDs because they’re still too expensive (see below).

A quick recap:

At the high end of the announcements, Kaminario launched with the introduction of the K2 (meant to conjure up an image of the mountain, not the skis). See “Startup claims 1.5 million IOPS on RAID array.” An entry-level configuration starts at $200,000 for 300,000 IOPS and 1TB of DRAM, but the system can scale to millions of dollars and IOPS. Since its system is based DRAM technology, Kaminario will compete most directly with vendors such as Texas Memory Systems (which has been selling DRAM devices since disco was popular) and Violin Memory.

Speaking of which, Violin bought Gear6 this week. You might (but probably not) know Gear6 as a supplier of a souped-up Memcached distribution, but that’s not why Violin plucked them. Gear6 also has NFS caching software. If Violin can orchestrate that code into its SSD arrays it will give Violin an entry into the lucrative NAS acceleration market (see “Violin to acquire Gear6 for caching software”).

Anobit (add another bit) was another SSD startup that launched this week, with an MLC-based array that the company says provides the performance and reliability (“endurance” in SSD parlance) of more expensive SLC SSDs. You’ll see a lot of similar claims in the months ahead, as the mathematicians at SSD vendors have come up with a variety of tricks to mask the inherent drawbacks of inexpensive MLC flash NAND technology. Anobit’s secret sauce is its Memory Signal Processing technology (see “Anobit claims MLC SSDs rival SLC SSDs”).

And on the PCIe front, Virident launched its tachIOn SSDs. (Weirdly enough, when you type “tachIOn” in Word it automatically gets changed to “tachyon” which, by the way, is a hypothetical subatomic particle that moves faster than light, although most of us old-timers think of it as a Fibre Channel controller chip). Virident is going head-to-head with Fusion-io, essentially trying to beat them at their own game (see "Virident ships SLC SSDs for PCIe").

Despite the rapidly falling prices of flash memory and SSDs, many end users still say SSDs are too expensive. In an QuickVote survey conducted earlier this year, 24% of the respondents had planned to deploy enterprise-class SSDs in the first half of this year; another 26% planned to buy them in the second half of the year; but 49% had no plans to deploy SSDs, with 10% citing insufficient reliability and 39% saying SSDs were still too expensive.

If you’re really interested in SSDs, consider attending the Flash Memory Summit, August 17 – 19 in Santa Clara.