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It’s EMC in a Flash

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It’s EMC in a Flash

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EMC has become the first of the enterprise storage players to go the flash route.

It’s putting pricey solid-state flash drives (SSDs) in its high-end Symmetrix DMX-4, promising response times “an order of magnitude faster than the fastest hard disk drives” on way less power.

According to EMC’s figures, the flash drives can store a terabyte of data using 38% less energy than the traditional mechanical drives.

It says it would take 30 15,000-RPM Fibre Channel disk drives to deliver the same performance as a single flash drive, translating into a 98% reduction in power consumption in a transaction-per-second comparison.

It also says the widgetry will deliver single-millisecond application response times up to 10 times faster than those same 15,000-RPM Fibre Channel drives.

Flash is more fragile than conventional storage but EMC says it’s been testing the purpose-built drives, made to its specifications by STEC, for the past year for reliability, data integrity and the “intense” workloads of high-end enterprise storage applications.

It explained that the widgetry uses single-layer cell (SLC) flash technology combined with sophisticated controllers to achieve ultra-fast read/write performance. Consumer gadgets use the cheaper multi-layer flash.

Symmetrix software has also been modified to provision, manage, replicate and move data between the flash drives and traditional Fibre Channel and SATA disk drives in the same array.

Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst at The Enterprise Strategy Group, reckons that “If it creates as big a gap in real-life transaction processing shops as it does on paper, this could very well be one of those killer advantages that only appear every 10 to 15 years.”

He told the Wall Street Journal the widgetry was of limited appeal, maybe it will have only a thousand customers, but they’ll buy it no matter what the cost.

EMC says flash storage is ideal in applications that need to process massive amounts of information very quickly, such as currency exchange and electronic trading systems, real-time data feed processing and mainframe transaction processing.

With flash in a Symmetrix DMX-4 storage system, a credit card provider, it says, could process its fraud detection information more quickly, clearing up to six times more transactions in the same time it previously took to process a single transaction.

The new drives are supposed to be available this quarter in 73GB and 146GB capacities.

EMC says that on a drive-to drive price comparison flash drives will be approximately 30x the price of the high-performance Fibre Channel magnetic drives.

It calculates that the average Symmetric system price – with a typical mix of magnetic disk drives and the addition of four 73GB flash drives – will increase by about 10%.

It says it expects flash prices to decline at a faster rate than Fibre Channel drives over the next few years due to increased volumes and advances in semiconductor manufacturing technologies.


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