The storage market has been seeing a lot of buzz about solid-state drives, or SSDs, but adoption of the technology has been held back while operating system and application compatibility improves and the big hard drive vendors make their move into the market.
That's the word from Steve Sicola, CTO of Xiotech and one of the storage industry's most prolific patent owners.
Sicola made his comments to an audience of several hundred CIOs and IT administrators attending a three-day Technical Symposium put on by Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution provider, earlier this month.
Those who are currently using SSDs in their storage infrastructure are still early adopters, or pioneers, Sicola said. "I always say, pioneers get arrows," he said. "They deserve them."
The biggest fiction today is that SSDs are ready for prime time, Sicola said. Because of the reliability and handling issues with Flash memory, an SSD needs twice its specified capacity to work properly. Also, performance of SSDs is not consistent, and operating systems and applications are not yet ready to efficiently use SSDs, he said.
Falling prices for high-density memory chips, and vendors willing to sell SSDs below cost in some cases to kick-start the industry, have led to early adoption of the technology, Sicola said. However, the adoption rate could be tempered by recent memory price increases and the slowdown in the development of even higher-density memory, he said.
Several vendors who either never made hard drives or who were relatively small hard drive vendors have entered the SSD market, including Samsung, Intel, Fusion I/O, Violin, Texas Memory Systems and STEC.
However, Sicola said, the list has yet to include the big three: Seagate, Western Digital and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST).
"The big guys haven't gotten into the market yet," he said.
Those three, while being slow to market, all have products in the works, either as a result of organic development, acquiring other companies, or partnering with others, Sicola said.
Their late arrival to the market is a combination of their taking time to develop the right relationships for the technology and not wanting to disturb their big share of the hard drive market, he said.
"The big players are building SSDs for the enterprise," he said. "But the smaller players are learning quickly. Venture capitalists are out there because there's a lot of money in this market. But the big guys have billions of dollars to invest."
SSD technology still needs to overcome some issues before it is ready for prime time. Those issues include falling performance as a device gets filled with data, inconsistent performance over multiple workloads, reliability and error recovery, operating system and application support, and the question of what is the best form factor.
However, Sicola said, he expects heavy deployment of SSD technology in 2012 as OEMs learn better how to incorporate them into their storage devices, and as operating systems and applications change to support them.
"It won't be just [array vendors] plugging in SSDs to hide existing issues with arrays or being like everyone else and using them," he said.
Sicola said that SSDs have been around since the 1980s, and that he personally first worked with the technology in the 1990s with DEC's Model MD11 SSD, which featured two hard drives, a large car battery, and a large amount of cheap but faulty DRAM.
SSDs fell out of favor, in part due to a drop in DRAM prices, which let customers put more memory in their servers than in the past.
However, technology changes are leading to a resurgence of interest in the product.