SSD frenzy grips vendors

Maybe the Storage Networking World (SNW) event in Orlando has been the spark but the storage hardware inventiveness index has suddenly rocketed. A drive array was a drive array was a drive array was the rule.



Maybe the Storage Networking World (SNW) event in Orlando has been the spark but the storage hardware inventiveness index has suddenly rocketed. A drive array was a drive array was a drive array was the rule. It could have FC, FATA, SAS or SATA drives and be represented as a SAN block array, a NAS a VTL or a RAIDed JBOD file array, but basically the thing contained 3.5-inch drives with a controller. But not any more.


Perhaps it started with EMC’s Flash bombshell when it said it would introduce solid state disks as a top-end performance tier into Symmetrix DMX4 arrays. Whether it began there or not, the floodgates have been well and truly opened.


Just before SNW in Florida a startup in Colorado, Atrato, introduced a clustered file storage box with accelerated I/O, its Velocity1000, with two innovative features. First, it used 2.5-inch drives instead of 3.5-inch ones. Atrato had bought the Seagate get-more-IOPS-out-of-a-shelf-of-2.5-inch-drives story wholeheartedly.


But it also believed another disk idea that came out of Seagate’s Advanced Storage Architectures group, recently sold to Xiotech. That was the idea of basing arrays on larger Lego blocks than the disk drive.


Instead you use a sealed canister of drives, 20 or more in a box, with power supplies and controllers and clever diagnostics and remedial software. Rather than remove failed drives you try to fix them in place and, if they are dead, bypass them with spare drives already in place. The canister never gets opened during its three or five-year lease.


Xiotech came up with its own version, the Intelligent Storage Element, and built its Emprise arrays out of them.


This has got probably better remedial software in it, along with standard 3.5-inch drives, but lacks the accelerated I/O of the Atrato box. Again it is plugging the fail-in-place idea but going further. By using Seagate’s own disk drive testing and fixing software it tries to mend in place. By carefully cancelling out drive rotational vibrations and improving cooling, says Emprise, customers should have a really low likelihood of ever having service engineer visits at all.


But it hasn’t provided a four or five or six nines reliability figure. Perhaps the SNW show made it bring the announcement forward.


Meanwhile, Xyratex revealed it was engaged in solid state disk talks with one or more of its OEMs. The drive array manufacturers are paddling like crazy underneath the surface of their serene swan-like progress across the storage water, trying to cope with EMC’s SSD surprise and this is the first tangible evidence of that.


Seagate’s Bill Watkins originally said he just didn’t get SSDs in a Fortune interview. In September he and his executive team carefully and at some length told analysts Seagate was working on its own SSDs and would not get left behind at all. The slides for the day show a 2008 announcement as well.

Intel’s Otellini said he would fix Intel’s Flash business and one of its fellows, Knut Grimsrud, revealed Intel’s SSD would have terrific performance and a write cycle life 50 times longer than current SSDs. The Xiotech people said their sealed disk canisters could hold 2.5-inch drives too, and SSDs.


You do get the feeling that SSD storage array technology is just going to explode onto the market.


Next up was Hifn, a somewhat staid storage networking hardware firm, which has developed a hardware card for de-duplication. Overland Storage, the tape automation and VTL vendor, revealed it was developing a next-generation nearline storage array which would use the card and so de-duplicate incoming data at hardware speed.

What about the need to have a de-dupe index in memory? Isn’t that why you need a server to do it? No, not so, because this array will likely use an SSD to hold the de-dupe dictionary. That is logical, but Overland Storage, the firm that introduced the ill-fated Ultamus as a primary protected storage array, is not the firm you would expect to come up with such a neat idea.


Almost as a ‘by the way’ came news that Seagate and PMC-Sierra had demonstrated a SAS 2.0 link running at 6Gbit/s. It also announced a 1TB SAS drive. You can just imagine a 500GB 2.5-inch SAS drive with a 6Gbit/s I/O path. Imagine a trayful of those in a rack.


This has been a month of storage hardware news. Just keep taking the pills, guys. Whatever you’re on, it is doing us all a power of good.



Chris Mellor is editor at

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