Solid-state drives offer new savings over disks

Solid-state Flash drives (SSDs ) are making inroads at both ends of the computer market – finding a place in small netbooks and also beginning to replace the traditional hard-disk drive for data storage in the enterprise.

Pliant Technology , a Silicon Valley start-up, says it can show huge savings over traditional drives with its SSDs, the first of which are launched today.

Pliant says its “Enterprise Flash Drives” (EFDs) have high reliability and performance, while new hybrid implementations can cut the cost of storage by around 50 per cent and running costs by nearly 90 per cent.

It cites as an example a typical enterprise application where 640,000 transactions a minute can be taking place on an 18-terabyte database.

This would normally require 1,000 small-capacity disk drives to enable faster access to data and higher performance. They would take up 40 rack-mount shelves, cost $450,000 and require 16,000 watts to operate and cool them.

Using Pliant’s EFDs to store “hot” current data along with regular high-capacity hard disks for data accessed less frequently, a hybrid set-up would take up just six shelves, cost half as much and require only 2,000 watts, the company says.

Pliant is entering a market which has been taken by storm by STEC , a supplier of solid-state drives to vendors of storage systems such as EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Sun, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Fusion-io  is another major competitor.

Pliant says its advance software architecture and proprietary ASIC  controller design give it a performance and reliability advantage.

Ken Handy, flash memory analyst at Objective Analysis, says Pliant also has an advantage in adopting a faster interface known as SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) for its drives, while STEC has relied on the older Fiberchannel interface and Fusion-io uses PCI-Express.

He sees the market growing from 66,000 units and $144m in sales this year to 1.7m units and $1.1bn in revenues in 2013.

Pliant’s first products are 2.5-inch solid-state drives in 150 and 300Gb sizes and a 2.5-inch 150Gb drive. It expects systems vendors to install them in enterprise data centres, high-performance computing installations, rendering farms for digital media and in the financial services industry.