EMC execs: We'll drive SSD cost down 'as fast as we can'

Execs tout importance faster SSD drive technology will play at EMC World conference

K.J. Burke, a systems engineer with Barrick Gold, a gold mining operation headquartered in Toronto, above other technology mentioned during keynote speeches, what caught his ear when Tucci mentioned EMC's intention to use more solid state disk. Because his company mines gold, servers and disk arrays are subject to dust and dirt being tracked in with administrators at offices located around the world, including facilities in rugged areas of Peru, Chile and Tanzania.

"We're already gone to more rugged Cisco routers. What I like about solid state disk is there are no moving parts to break down," he said. "Also, we pay about US$4 a kilowatt hour for power in our Tanzania location. We would pay the additional cost to purchase solid state disks just to be able to reduce the amount of power we use."

After some initial investigation into savings around solid state disk technology, Burke said he believes lower energy costs alone could wind up paying for additional midrange storage area networks to be installed in remote locations to ease data management headaches.

Mark Sorenson, EMC's senior vice president of information management technology, said SSDs will be a significant in the adoption of data deduplication technology, which he believes will be "as ubiquitous as RAID someday."

Sorenson said SSD technology, particularly on secondary disk backup systems, will be able to speed deduplication software's ability to seek out and eliminate data copies because it has no moving parts as disk drives do, such as an actuator arm that must move into position to retrieve data from a disk platter.

John Webster, principal IT adviser at research firm Illuminata Inc., said EMC may not be taking into account that Fibre Channel drives will also drop in price and increase in efficiency over the next two to three years as well, adding their own competitive advantage over SSDs. Webster also said SSD technology brings with it longevity problems in that there are only so many times an application can rewrite data to the cells in NAND memory before they wear out and become unreliable.

"I think it's too early to jump the gun on this," Webster said.

There are two major types of solid state memory: single-layer cell (SLC) NAND memory, which writes one bit per cell, and multi-layer cell (MLC) NAND memory, which writes two or more bits per cell. MLC offers greater density and lower cost, but because it writes multiple bits per cell, it also tends to wear out faster, according Avi Cohen, head of research at Avian Securities, in Boston. One fix for addressing the wear level of memory is larger SSD drives that offer more area on which to write data, but with more capacity comes greater cost, Cohen said.

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