EMC Breaks New Ground with SSDs in Storage Arrays

Analysis: Storage company tries to change the market before anyone believed it would happen.

EMC surprised the data storage industry with a move Jan. 14 that wasn't expected until perhaps the second half of this year.
The company, based in Hopkinton, Mass., claimed to be the first enterprise storage vendor to integrate flash-based solid state drives into its core product portfolio. EMC's new 73GB and 146GB SSDs will become available as an option later this quarter in EMC's high-end Symmetrix DMX-4 systems, which are designed for high-performance systems and applications, such as financial institutions and scientific projects.
Solid state flash drives use enterprise-class flash memory to store and retrieve data, enabling read-write response times that are about 30 times faster than the current highest-quality hard disk drives. Because they have no moving parts, SSDs require much less power to run, and mechanical breakdowns are irrelevant.
EMC's flash drives are supplied by STEC Inc. of Santa Ana, Calif. These will serve as a new solid-state storage tier, or Tier 0, for the Symmetrix DMX-4 arrays. EMC also said it will offer virtual provisioning (also known as thin provisioning) for Symmetrix DMX-3 and 4, as well as 1TB SATA II disk drives for Tier 3 storage.
General availability of these new hardware and software products is set for March 19, EMC Senior Director of Storage Product Marketing Bob Wambach told eWEEK.
Thin provisioning is a software feature that allows administrators to allocate just enough storage needed for specific applications, saving on unused capacity and wear and tear on drives.
"We've been working on this for about three years, and we're ready to go with it now," Wambach said. "We chose a single-cell type of flash drive that has been optimized for high-end enterprise use that is proficient in performance, rather than in density."
Wambach said that "you really cannot rely on what's [already] out there in the market to build your systems. You need to be engaged in future technologies. This is a great example for EMC to basically seize an opportunity to begin to change the market before anyone else thought it was going to happen."
Symmetrix was the logical place for EMC to start its SSD product strategy, Wambach said, "because that's where the customers with the ultra-fast performance tiers tend to be -- large enterprises, and in areas such as financial securities trading, currency exchange, arbitrage and hedging -- wherever there are a lot of electronic decisions being made. These applications are typically run on Symmetrix anyway. That's the sweet spot."
The Symmetrix DMX-4 flash drives -- which start at about $250,000 and run into the millions of dollars for the largest systems -- use single-layer cell flash technology combined with sophisticated controllers to achieve fast read/write performance, high reliability and data integrity, Wambach said, adding that they have been tested and qualified to withstand the intense workloads of high-end enterprise storage applications.
SSDs certainly have many good attributes -- many analysts believe they represent the future of IT -- but they still have some problems. For example, at this time they cost about 30 times the price of a disk per megabyte of information stored. It is also unproven exactly how long they can last under high I/O conditions in a day-after-day deployment.
EMC didn't offer exact pricing information on the new SSD-loaded DMX-4s, other than admitting that they were definitely more expensive.
"The companies that will be interested in these aren't looking at price; they're looking at performance," Wambach said.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...