Computerworld

SNIA to push enterprise use of solid-state storage

Initiative aims to educate users, foster adoption of standards

As faster and less expensive solid-state storage systems are developed and built, the data storage industry needs to educate enterprise IT about the technology's benefits and develop a strong market for solid-state storage products.

That's the idea behind a new Solid State Storage Initiative unveiled yesterday by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), a trade group whose membership encompasses 400 companies and 7,000 people in the storage industry.

The goals are to educate IT users about the technology, to foster the creation and adoption of standards for solid-state storage, and to work with related groups to spread the development and use of the fast-moving technology.

"Solid-state is coming," said Phil Mills, secretary of the SNIA board of directors. "Solid-state is going to change the landscape of storage, because of the performance of solid-state compared to the disk drives that we are used to using."

The platter-based hard drive technology that's used today is always a performance compromise, he said, because the reading and writing of data is much slower than the fastest processors available, creating a built-in lag time that business users have had to accept.

"We accept the delays in storage today" because of that mismatch, Mills said. "That is something, basically, that we've been doing for 40 to 50 years. We're going to be able to stop doing that. Once you get your storage as fast as your main processor, you won't have to wait like we do today. It's a performance boon that you've just got to pay attention to."

Solid-state drives (SSD) are gaining popularity because they are faster and more reliable than other storage offerings, and because they have no moving parts and consume less power than traditional platter-based hard drives. One drawback, however, is that they are usually more expensive than traditional hard drives.

The idea for the initiative was born earlier this year when a group of SNIA member vendors discussed whether such an effort was needed to promote the benefits of the new generation of solid-state storage technologies, Mills said.

Some 29 member companies have joined the initiative, including Adtron, BitMicro Networks, Dell, EMC, Emulex, Fusion-io, Fujitsu Computer Systems, Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, LSI, Marvell Technology Group, Microsoft, NetApp, QLogic, SanDisk, Seagate Technology, Sun Microsystems and Texas Memory Systems.

The idea, Mills said, is to give solid-state storage technologies a bigger voice in the marketplace and the industry. All of the member companies are developing products in the solid-state marketplace, but they might not have put those products on the market yet, he said.

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Through SNIA's latest international initiative, the movement toward wider use and adoption of solid-state storage technologies will likely gain speed, said Mills.

Another goal of the project, is "making sure that the IT workers get the needed knowledge on the technology" so they can integrate it into their workplaces, said Vincent Franceschini, who's chairman of the SNIA board of directors. "That's the overall mandate."

Mills said that even as solid-state storage use grows, he doesn't expect the demise of traditional platter-based storage drives in the foreseeable future.

"What we see is that solid-state storage will eat into the performance end" of the market," Mills said. "That's where we see solid-state drives making a big play in the market, in those performance situations."

Mark Peters, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said the initiative will greatly help to educate enterprise IT users about solid-state storage and its benefits, as well as bring together manufacturers to work on standards that will benefit them all.

"I think it's good that SNIA's doing it," said Peters, who recently joined SNIA. "They have a great reputation, they represent all the right people, and they're trusted."

Getting carried away, though, is one danger faced by the new initiative, he said. "The solid-state thing -- anyone who tells you that solid-state is going to replace spinning disks" is over the top, Peters said. "It's not going to replace spinning disks, but it is one of the biggest changes coming to the storage industry."

Solid-state storage will allow enterprises that need increased system I/O performance to better match faster storage to faster processors to reap the full benefits of both, Peters said. "The whole thing is about economics. As we gradually get to the point when you put more storage closer to the processing... in terms of performance and speed, that's a good thing. The newest CPUs are fast, and we're still serving them with 1930s Chevys for storage."

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John Webster, an analyst at Illuminata, agreed. "The concept of solid-state disks has been around for decades, and it hasn't really taken off yet," Webster said. Enterprise storage buyers are "a little bit skeptical at this point."

Enterprise buyers can understand the technical and performance benefits of the technology, but they are still thinking that they can get by without it. "It's the typical response," Webster said.

While educating users about the speed, reliability and energy-saving benefits of the technology, vendors need to be careful not to oversell it, Webster said.

"It's not a giant move forward," he said. "It's the creation of a higher-performance storage tier that is now reasonably priced. That's what it is. To call it anything different, I think, is overhyping it."

For users who need greater I/O performance, solid-state can be a great option, Webster said. "I think that there are cases in terms of database acceleration and acceleration of applications that want to push real-time or near-real-time information out to users, yes," he said. And in those cases, solid-state storage can be helpful. Looking at possible uses of solid-state storage, Webster said, "I think there are now some applications out on the horizon, specifically in areas where IT wants to push real-time information, such as financial trading. Financial traders would love to have as much information as they can in real-time for their trading."