IBM’s Got SSD in Its Storage Sights

New research from IBM claims the vendor’s solid state disk (SSD) storage efforts are attaining greater performance capabilities than competitor’s to the tune of a 250 percent increase in input/output per second in current data-transfer rates, while proving more cost efficient.

IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) SSD storage research, code-named ‘Project QuickSilver’ is an “ongoing cross-IBM initiative” for developing integrated information infrastructures, according to a press statement.

“The ultimate benefits of solid state will require software, management and systems capabilities — with IBM being uniquely positioned, with its deep research and development capabilities and broad product and services experience, to unlock that potential,” stated Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM System Storage.

That means faster and cheaper data storage and retrieval as data-access delays associated with hard drives (HDD) are being eliminated, according to IBM. The vendor is investigating how SSDs can be used in middleware, hardware, operating systems and even applications across both the server and storage infrastructure.

IBM’s research news comes as storage vendors want new technologies that provide speedier capability for improved system performance. The problem with SSDs is the high price point, however, and that aspect has kept it tied to high-performance computing (HPC) environments in which cost is not a huge issue.

But as SSD prices drop rapidly — analysts claim as much as 40 to 50 percent annually — the drives are getting greater attention by both vendors and enterprises. Some vendors, such as Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), have predicted SSDs will be saturating storage systems as early as next year.

“IBM doesn’t see SSD as an be-all or end-all technology,” Charles King, principal analyst, Pund-IT, told “What they’re doing is quantifying how far the technology can be pushed,” he said.

IBM is no stranger to SSDs, given its early push on the server side in integrating the technology into its BladeCenter servers in mid-2007. The vendor, which was not available for comment about its research by press time, has not indicated when its SSD storage technology will be ready for commercial launch but called Quicksilver a “significant step forward.”

“This is not about replacing today’s hard disk drive with a new form factor; this is about having a complete, end-to-end systems approach and that’s not something EMC, HP or Sun can match,” IBM stated in the release.

IBM describes SSD as having “great potential,” but noted it is “still an expensive emerging technology that developers have yet figure out how it can truly provide the business value clients want,” in its research release.

“The question remains: How can solid state device technology be implemented and optimized in a cost-effective way that brings value to clients?” IBM stated in its release

Obviously EMC (NYSE: EMC) believes it has already answered those questions given its SSD initiatives this year.

EMC was the first storage vendor to announce SSD integration, initially with its high-end Symmetrix product in January and then a month ago in its Clariion CX4 midrange system.

“IBM’s efforts are analogous to what EMC’s approach is,” King said. EMC recognizes the technology is not a solution for every storage need but as an absolute need for the HPC environment, the analyst noted.

It’s a similar scenario of when EMC began pushing SATA drives into its Centera product line about five years ago. That tech strategy pushed Fibre Channel up the performance ladder and propelled tape storage to a deeper backup role, King explained.

“When EMC did that everyone squeaked because the cost was higher, but within six months all vendors were delivering the same products,” said King, adding that in researching SSD capabilities IBM may add another rung to the storage performance ladder.

“IBM deserves a pat on the back for researching the potential instead of simply rolling out something out. They’re looking at SSD as a secret sauce and want to take it to the next level,” King said.

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