Opinion: Why EMC's Symmetrix upgrade is a solid move

Solid-state storage is a capability enhancement, not a replacement for existing technology

Last week, EMC caused some stirrings in the storage world with a set of announcements concerning new enterprise storage functionality ranging from 1TB SATA drives to virtual provisioning (their term for thin provisioning plus). The announcement that garnered the most headlines, however, concerned the fact that they would offer form-factor compatible solid-state storage for the DMX-4 (Symmetrix), making it the first system to support three distinct tiers of disk within a single frame: solid-state, Fibre Channel, and SATA (see "EMC offers solid-state disk in Symmetrix").

Much of the follow-on reaction focused on cost (broad speculation about multiples over spinning disk), technological challenges of flash memory (discussions of potential write limitations), and whether or not there is customer demand for such a product. I'll leave it to others to debate the first two items, but regarding the final item, I suspect that the demand may turn out to be greater than initially thought.

Various incarnations of solid-state storage, of course, have been available for decades, and, by and large, they have not been very broadly adopted. It seems that every few years there are attempts to push for greater acceptance, so it's reasonable to ask what's different this time?

One big consideration is improved manageability. Traditional-style solid state storage systems represented one more discrete entity that needed to be staged, provisioned, managed and monitored -- resulting in added complexity in the environment. These new devices are just additional disks within an array. Indications are that they are managed the same way as the rest of the array and offer the same features and functions -- only much, much faster.

Another factor is simply the reality that high-transaction applications do exist, as evidenced by the use in some environments of many dedicated striped spindles to meet very high-I/O demands. In many cases, this storage is short-stroked (only the outer tracks are written), resulting in significant wasted storage capacity. This fact may help to offset a portion of the cost premium for solid-state storage (fewer fully utilized solid-state disks versus lots of poorly utilized spinning disk).

A final factor that cannot be overlooked is EMC's sales and marketing ability. They will make sure that customers are aware of this offering and will be able to bundle it into purchases, meaning many users will be willing to at least evaluate the capability and a healthy percentage of them will likely adopt it.

Solid-state storage is a capability enhancement not a replacement for existing technology. Clearly, it's not for everyone, but offered in this fashion could find a sizeable niche.

Jim Damoulakis is chief technology officer of GlassHouse Technologies Inc., a leading provider of independent storage services. He can be reached at jimd@glasshouse.com.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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