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Storage Startup Goes All Out With SSD

A startup is banking on enterprises' growing need for high-performance storage -- and it's betting on flash-based, solid-state drive (SSD) technology to help it steal business away from the big players in the space.

Violin Memory announced its Violin 1010 appliance that uses Single-Level Cell (SLC) NAND flash modules integrated onto memory cards. Relying purely on SSD instead of traditional hard drives provides faster read and write performance at much lower power, according to the three-year-old vendor.

The company hopes to parlay the benefits of SSD into cold, hard cash, as enterprises search for faster storage processing systems at a cheaper price -- since tech budgets are under greater scrutiny and data piles continue to grow.

The new market entrant also extends the list of storage players who see big dollar signs with SSD products. An IDC report released a year ago predicted SSDs were ready to hit the mainstream and that the technology's performance and mobility-related requirements will push SSD revenues from $373 million in 2006 to $5.4 billion by 2011.

That's one reason storage titan EMC pushed SSD into its high-end Symmetrix DMX-4 storage systems in January, marking the technology's initial foray into the enterprise business environment. Several competitors quickly followed with Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA) and Seagate (NYSE: STX) releasing SSD storage offerings.

The SSD approach provides faster response time -- as much as 10 times greater -- than traditional hard disk drives when it comes to transaction processing and intensive applications such as Web applications and financial services trading systems.

But until this year, the cost was a bit prohibitive. High-end disk-based systems still carry price tags in the neighborhood of $4 to $5 per gigabyte, while Violin said its SSD price is about $50 to $60 a gigabyte of data, Brian Babineau, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, told InternetNews.com.

Yet the prices are trending in SSD's favor, as its price point is currently dropping by 50 percent annually.

While Violin said its SSD price is about $50 to $60 a gigabyte of data, compared to competitive offerings that still average $300 a gigabyte. A 2TB Violin system costs about $120,000.

"It's a very reliable technology that provides better performance for cheaper costs," Morgan Littlewood, Violin's vice president of marketing, told InternetNews.com.

The Violin system also provides easy installation, according to industry experts.

"You just plug these modules in, it's very simple. SSD is the biggest, most disruptive technology in the industry right now," Gene Ruth, an analyst with Burton Group, told InternetNews.com.

The Violin 101 Flash Module, available in a 2U chassis, comes with 4TB of Flash storage capacity. It also can be configured to support up to 504 GB of DRAM -- for enterprises in need of far faster speeds, at the cost of capacity. The appliance includes four 4Gbit/sec Fibre Channel connections and up to four 10Gbit/sec Ethernet ports.

"What this announcement does mean is that customers will have more choice when selecting high-performance storage solutions," Babineau said. "The more competition, the better the price, which is needed in the SSD marketplace."