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Sun: 2008 'tipping point' for solid-state drives

This year will be a tipping point for solid-state drives as the performance and reliability finally measure up for server suppliers like Sun Microsystems.

2008 is the year of the solid state drive. That's what Sun Microsystems believes as reliability finally measures up to the rigorous requirements of server storage and the cost per gigabyte plunges.

On Wednesday, Sun announced that it is preparing to introduce solid-state drive (SSD) technology that "will completely change how server and storage infrastructure is designed and deployed in enterprise data centers." Sun said it is already shipping Solaris ZFS software "optimized" for SSDs.

Though Sun is not specifying suppliers, Intel confirms that it has collaborated with Sun on SSD development for servers. Intel is slated to bring out high-capacity SSDs in the second half of the year.

Sun follows storage vendor EMC, which announced integration of solid-state drives into its product portfolio in January.

Solid-state drives give "customers 3x better performance at one-fifth the energy consumption of traditional spinning (hard disk drive) disk offerings," according to a prepared statement by Sun.

Sun StorageTek server array
Sun StorageTek server array Sun Microsystems

Solid-state drive suppliers Intel and Samsung have both discussed the huge potential for servers. Samsung said previously that companies like Citibank and American Express peg server performance on IOPS, or input/output operations per second. Hard disk drives typically achieve 120 to 150 IOPS, while SSDs are in the neighborhood of 10,000 to 30,000 IOPS, according to Samsung.

Intel also sees SSDs playing a role in the server market as a "performance accelerator." The chipmaker cited a streaming video example where 10 SSDs could essentially handle the same workload as 62 high-performance hard disk drives.

In addition to performance benefits, SSDs "save on energy costs compared to traditional Fibre Channel hard drives (and) decrease server and storage sprawl in already maxed-out data centers," Sun said. "SSDs consume around one-fifth of the power of both memory...and disk drives, have no rotating media and consume very little power when not in use."

Sun sees SSDs as a watershed technology. "Flash SSD is the most exciting innovation to happen to system and storage design in over a decade. By mid-2009, it will be in the majority of servers and deliver more capacity than DRAM and far greater overall system performance and energy efficiency," said John Fowler, executive vice president of the Sun Systems Group.

Intel is targeting SSDs for consumer and server storage
Intel is targeting SSDs for consumer and server storage Intel

Plunging cost is another factor. "Enterprise-class Fibre Channel hard disk drives have only exhibited a 40 percent year-over-year price decline in the last decade, while the Flash SSD price per gigabyte continues to fall between 50 to 70 percent annually," Sun said.

The Mountain View, Calif., company is expected to deliver Flash-based products to market in the second half of 2008. Sun did not cite price or capacities. Today, typical large-capacity enterprise SSD capacities start at 32GB but can range up to 512GB.