Hitachi to ship SSDs with high-end arrays

The storage vendor is expected to use Intel's X25-E solid-state disk drives

Hitachi Data Systems Corp. today announced that it will offer flash-based solid-state drives for its high-end Hitachi Universal Storage Platform V and VM storage arrays.

Roberto Basilio, vice president of storage platforms product management at HDS, said that the solid-state drives -- expected to become available near the end of January -- will offer hundreds of times the I/O per second (IOPS) that current Fibre Channel hard drive technology does. Basilio added that SSDs are likely to become available in HDS's midrange storage array systems in the future.

"One array of solid-state disks -- say, eight drives -- can give you 40,000 IOPS. To do the same with Fibre Channel disks would require hundreds of drives," he said.

HDS said pricing for the drives is not yet available, but SSDs are typically up to 40 times more expensive than enterprise-class hard drives. According to research firm IDC, enterprise-class spinning disks cost about 90 cents per gigabyte, while enterprise-class SSDs are $35 to $40 per gigabyte.

"Near term, the high cost of SSDs as compared with HDD-based storage device solutions from a dollar-per-gigabyte perspective will continue to be an issue for SSD adoption in enterprise data centers," said Jeff Janukowicz, IDC's research manager for SSDs and hard disk drive components. "But over time, as SSDs become more affordable, IDC believes system OEMs and users will gain a better understanding of how maximize and capitalize upon the benefits of SSDs."

Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective-Analysis, said the cost of SSDs is only five to ten times higher than enterprise-class hard disk drives.

"A $350-$650 enterprise HDD offers hundreds of IOPS. A $700 SSD will give you [about] 15,000 IOPS. For just under $10,000 you can get around 50,000 IOPS," Handy said.

According to IDC, HDS's announcement shows the possibilities for a high-IOPS class of SSDs targeted at Tier 0 applications that can use the highest level of fast-access storage. SSDs offer a number of benefits over HDDs, including better IOPS performance, lower power consumption, less heat generation, lower acoustical noise, and form factor flexibility.

HDS's SSD announcement follows similar ones by vendors such as EMC, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard.

Basilio said HDS took its time in rolling out the 3.5-in. SSD technology in its high-end storage arrays because there are few suppliers of the technology, there is a relatively limited request for it among HDS's customer base, and HDS wanted to get the technology interface right.

"Hitachi is meticulous about rolling out new technology, and we had some mechanical difficulties. We didn't want to provide components that would cause user problems," he said.

As is the case with HDS's competitors, the company will initially offer SSDs in 73GB and 146GB capacities.

Basilio emphasized that SSDs are complementary to Fibre Channel drives in high-end systems and will not be a replacement for less expensive, traditional hard-drive technology that offers greater capacity. For example, SSDs would be faster for certain database applications, such as mortgage analysis, credit card transaction processing or seismic data rendering. But jobs that require more typical I/O would still reside on Fibre Channel, if not lower tiers of storage.

HDS's Hitachi Storage Command software management suite will fully support its new Tier 0 flash-based storage, which allows storage administrators to classify data for placement on different tiers of storage, replicate data and dynamically provision storage with a single set of management tools.

HDS would not disclose from which vendors it is purchasing its SSD technology, saying only that it "is committed to a multivendor flash-based strategy, similar to traditional hard disk drives." However, industry observers said the company will begin by shipping Intel Corp.'s line of X25-E Extreme SSDs with its arrays.

"HDS is taking a smart route. Intel has done a lot of very fundamental work that few others are staffed to perform," Handy said. "They tapped into their R&D team (the ones who understand computers and software better than almost anyone) and asked them to analyze hard disk drive I/O and suggest an optimum architecture. Only a few other companies (like IBM or Microsoft) have the capability of doing that."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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