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2012: The year storage becomes a celebrity

Lucas Mearian | Jan. 31, 2012
While data storage has always been a necessary building block for technology, it's rarely garnered as much attention as it has in the past two years. The reason: Corporate and retail consumers are being forced to store greater amounts of data and they need to make that data more useful -- and accessible.

IDC expects worldwide SSD shipments to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 51.5% from 2010 to 2015.



All-flash arrays catch up to disk


Vendors such as Nimbus Data Systems and Violin Memory are also challenging traditional primary disk drive storage array vendors with all-flash arrays, claiming they can just about match disk on a price-capacity point and blow them away on performance and total cost of ownership.

Late last year, eBay announced it had purchased a 100TB flash array to replace SAN and NAS storage it had been using in its Quality Assurance Division. "One rack [of SSD storage] is equal to eight or nine racks of something else," said Michael Craft, eBay's manager of QA Systems Administration.

Analysts believe the price for a gigabyte of capacity on a flash drive will drop from $1.56 in 2011 to below $1 per gigabyte in 2012, a dip likely to spur greater adoption of the technology by PC manufacturers and consumers alike.

The floods that temporarily shut down hard-drive manufacturing facilities in Thailand last year, most notably Western Digital's, also added to a shift toward solid-state storage, some analysts said.

Evidence of NAND flash's pervasiveness can be seen in Apple's acquisition of Anobit Technologies, a maker of NAND flash controllers that increase the reliability and longevity of solid-state storage. Apple is the world's leading user of NAND flash through its mobile devices, like the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air.

The purchase of Anobit addresses an important issue for Apple: It frees the company from depending on flash component makers such as Samsung and Intel, which lead the market in NAND flash production.

This year, many top vendors are also planning to put their solid-state storage closer to the CPU, and in some cases, put the server CPU closer to the storage.

Dell is already selling PCIe server cards from Fusion-io, and EMC soon plans to announce the availability of its PCIe flash card initiative, dubbed Project Lightning. EMC is expected to sell its own branded flash memory cards from multiple suppliers to server makers and is likely to offer flash memory on blade servers as part of its vBlock offering.

vBlock is a venture with Cisco and VMware, announced in 2011, that integrates Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) servers and networking switches with EMC storage arrays and VMware virtualization software for public and private cloud services.


PCIe and NAND flash

Wayne Adams, chair of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), is upbeat about the PCIe server cards.

"Now, you have higher speeds and you're looking at transferring data at line speed between a server's microprocessor and [flash] cache," said Adams, who attended a two-hour panel at his association's Winter Symposium on PCIe-solid state storage standards. "System designers are working with cache and higher speed interconnects like PCIe and changing the equation of how much storage can be put in a box in order to match server computational growth. So you can end up with more efficient storage instead of 100 hard drives with data striped across them.


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