A new partnership between Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies to develop enterprise-class solid state drives (SSDs) promises to push the technology further into enterprise storage systems.
EMC (NYSE: EMC) got the ball rolling in January, when it added SSDs from STEC to its high-end Symmetrix systems. A host of other storage system vendors have since announced their own solid state plans, including IBM (NYSE: IBM), HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA).
On the drive side, Samsung, Seagate (NYSE: STX) and Micron (NYSE: MU) are among the names moving into the enterprise SSD market, while Western Digital (NYSE: WDC) has been moving more slowly. One of the more aggressive market entrants has been Intel, with co-founder Gordon Moore getting personally involved in the company's efforts (see Intel Sees Gold in Solid State Storage).
Intel has also co-developed 34nm NAND flash technology with Micron even as the two compete on SSD product development efforts.
By partnering with Hitachi, Intel gets enterprise-class SAS and Fibre Channel interfaces and a ready market, while the third-biggest drive maker gets an instant presence in the SSD market. The first products are expected to be available in early 2010 when some say the enterprise SSD market should be heating up.
"By partnering with Hitachi GST, we believe we will be able to accelerate the adoption of SSDs in enterprise computing, and thus increase the overall system performance and power efficiency of these applications," said Troy Winslow, director of marketing for Intel's NAND Solutions Group.
"The cooperation of these two players shows they understand that success with SSDs is likely to be about a lot more than the SSD hardware itself," said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Peters. "Optimal operation is a systems issue, and that's part of what Intel gets too."
And because the market is relatively new, "It's positioning and partnerships that matter right now," Peters said.
And one thing the Intel-Hitachi deal gives both players is a potential partner in Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), one of the biggest makers of high-end storage arrays.
"I'd eat my hat if they don't end up in HDS arrays," said Peters. "If BMW had a new turbocharger, they'd use it on BMWs, eh?"
Greg Schulz, senior analyst and founder of StorageIO group, agreed that HDS arrays are a likely market for the technology. "I would say it would be a safe bet that when HDS finally releases a flash-based SSD drive, it would make sense that it be an HGST-based solution," he said.
Schulz noted that by the time the drives are shipping in 2010, "the enterprise market should be in a better shape to accept larger capacity flash SSD," and endurance, write performance, capacity and cost issues should be well on their way to being addressed.
Schulz said industry trade groups like SNIA's Solid State Storage Initiative "have the opportunity to help generate market awareness to prepare customers and [help them] understand what to look for in different SSD solutions, as well as to hopefully help clarify the different types and roles along with packaging options for flash SSD and SSD in general."
Intel and Hitachi are stressing the high IOPS performance and power efficiency of SSDs for enterprises looking to boost application performance while reducing power and cooling costs.
The new SSDs will be exclusively branded and sold and supported by Hitachi GST and use Intel NAND flash memory and SSD technology.