EMC Flash Move Catches Industry Offguard - InformationWeek
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1/25/2008
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Terry Sweeney
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EMC Flash Move Catches Industry Offguard

Cisco executives have often said they don't need to be first to market with any technology. And we've heard EMC downplay the first-to-market advantage. Still, it's remarkably clear that EMC caught everyone flatfooted with its decision to be the first major storage vendor to add solid-state disk technology to its products.

Cisco executives have often said they don't need to be first to market with any technology. And we've heard EMC downplay the first-to-market advantage. Still, it's remarkably clear that EMC caught everyone flatfooted with its decision to be the first major storage vendor to add solid-state disk technology to its products."In one brilliant marketing move, intended or not, EMC has flipped the balance of market power from its former defensive position ... to a leadership position with next-generation technology and performance," gushed former Gartner analyst Nick Allen in a recent Wikibon presentation.

And as bloggers, competitors, and consultants continue to parse the SSD announcement, their analysis boils down to three basic questions: -- What will it cost? -- Will the performance improvement be worth it? -- What's been done to improve the failure rate of SSD's underlying flash drive technology?

Any answers to those questions are guesswork or informed estimates, at best. But to take them in order: -- Estimates for SSD pricing range from 18 to 30 times the cost of conventional spinning disk. Since Symmetrix pricing starts at $250,000 and escalates quickly from there, the local insurance agency won't be buying this gear anytime soon. That's not the target market, recall. -- According to the vendors involved, you bet! STEC product literature claims 50,000 I/O reads. EMC toned it down slightly, promising more in the neighborhood of 30 times the I/O of a traditional Fibre Channel drive. -- Single-level cell (SLC) technology is being heralded as the hero for better performance and reliability than consumer-quality flash drives found in notebook computers and the like. EMC and STEC also purportedly made other, unspecified improvements to the Zeus IOPS flash device.

In his typically nuanced way, Hitachi Data Systems' CTO Hu Yoshida serves up a balanced discourse on SSD flash versus DRAM, without resorting to much FUD. He also calls for benchmarking performance using open-standards based self-monitoring, analysis, and reporting technology (SMART) for disk drives and software.

Storage customers and the industry will continue to digest the impact of flash-based SSDs on the storage equation. EMC expects to start shipping in March, so we're likely to know uptake and competitors' responses well before the end of this year. In any case, being first to market with SSDs looks to have conveyed some pretty clear advantage.

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