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Market Trends in the Rackmount SSD Market

"Greasing the dataflow through legacy hard disk arrays" - by Zsolt Kerekes, editor

(this article was published here in October 2009)
The number of vendors in the rackmount SSD category will rise to hundreds in the next 3 years as enterprise users become more familiar with the benefits of this type of storage.

Market entry costs are low...

It's easy for RAID systems oems to requalify their products to use SSDs. But unlike the transition to NAS which we chronicled in the late 1990s (where low performance products found valid application niches if they were cheap enough) the role of the SSD array today is primarily server acceleration.

That means not all hard disk boxes will be optimal for use with SSDs. Slow bus interface adapters and slow RAID controllers will eat into the latency budget and squander potential SSD performance. I have no doubt that in addition to many worthy products - some abysmal SSD arrays will also come to market (populated by no / low performance SSDs) as floods of lemming like companies leap into the enterprise SSD surf.

Looking at future trends - the rackmount SSD market can be grouped in 4 main segments
  • some element of open architecture RAM SSDs - like those from Solid Access Technologies, Third I/O and (later) Kaminario - in which industry standard servers are used as the platform to build the SSD (using proprietary software).
I think that all 4 product types will survive in the market for several years.

The advantage of proprietary SSD rackmounts is they offer superior performance compared to COTS arrays of flash / RAM SSDs.

Apart from applications which need the ultimate performance - which can only be met by proprietary architecture SSDs - there can also be applications in which the proprietary products offer superior price / performance or reliability compared to "open SSDs" - due to what I call - "big SSD architecture".

For example - some proprietary SSD rackmounts use significantly less memory chips and electrical power to deliver a usable SSD capacity and resilience (compared to open systems) - due to the fact that they have been optimally designed as a rackmount solution. (In many open SSD arrays there is duplication of effort and wastage of performance due to optimization at the module level followed by another level on optimization at the array of modules level.)

The advantage of open SSD rackmounts is they appeal to users who want to reduce the risks of buying from new vendors - and who don't want to get locked into proprietary systems.

The argument goes something like this..

Even if the original supplier of the proprietary 2.5" SSDs (used in the open array) exits the market - there are another 30 or so manufacturers of similar SSDs who can fill the unused / future disk slots at similar cost.

This approach is likely to appeal to conservative buyers - and may carry more weight than arguments about superior performance. Many customers will get "adequate" performance from these "safe, dull and open" SSD architectures. And even if they cost more today (than the proprietary SSD systems) - there's a realistic expectation that in future they will cost less (or get faster) due to competition in the SSD component / module market.

As you can see - the rackmount SSD market is far from simple. And there will be no such thing as a clear and present leader or winner which will satisfy all customers, applications or budgets until another 2-3 SSD product generations have been tested in the market. So it could remain a confusing picture till 2013.
more articles in this enterprise series

the Survivor's Guide to Enterprise SSDs
flash in the enterprise - from SLC to XLC
high availability enterprise SSDs - news and guide
what do I need to know about any new rackmount SSD?
SSD ASAPs - Auto-tuning SSD Accelerated Pools of storage
Legacy vs New Dynasty - the new way of looking at Enterprise SSDs

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