Sun Adds To Server Efficiency With Flash Memory


Sun Microsystems is continuing to expand the integration of SSD Flash memory throughout its product line

Sun Microsystems is putting solid state disk technology into its portfolio of servers, the latest step in its push to make the Flash technology available in all of its products.

In addition, Sun also announced on 11 March that it was releasing the design of its own Open Flash Module into the OpenSolaris Storage communities, a move that will enable developers in the communities to innovate on the Flash memory standard.

The moves come less than a year after John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun’s Systems Group, began telling customers, analysts and journalists that the company—convinced of the promise of performance increases and greater efficiency over traditional hard drives—would integrate SSD technology into all of its hardware, and optimize its software for it.

Fowler also promised that Sun would build services around helping businesses deploy Flash memory technology.

Sun began the journey several years ago, when it started optimizing its software for Flash. For example, Sun designed its Solaris ZFS file system to be optimized for SSDs, said Jason Schaffer, senior director of storage products at Sun.

Sun has since done the same with other software products, and in November, rolled out the Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage Systems, which featured integrated Flash technology.

Now the company is doing the same with its x64 servers and blade systems, powered by multicore chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, as well as its own UltraSPARC processors. In addition, Sun’s CMT (chip multi-threaded) servers running UltraSPARC chips. Certain x64 and CMT systems are available for free 60-day trials through the company’s Try and Buy program.

Sun officials also said they will soon roll out into its Open Storage offerings a family of high-performance, energy-efficient storage arrays based on Flash technology.

All that work gives Sun a leg up in the increasingly competitive space of Flash memory, Schaffer said.

“The marriage of hardware innovation and software [SSD integration] really eases the use of Flash technology [for customers],” he said.

SSDs, which first were found in such devices as Apple’s iPod, use enterprise-class Flash memory to store and retrieve data, enabling read/write response times that are about 30 times faster than the current highest-quality hard disk drives. Because they have no moving parts, SSDs require much less power to run and mechanical breakdowns are essentially non-existent.

Sun officials say their approach to SSD integration into software and hardware products enables businesses to get 65-times faster response times, up to eight-times better throughput and up to 38 percent less power consumption than systems with traditional hard drive disks.

The challenge for Sun and the host of other vendors—from Intel to EMC to just about every other major storage company—that want to exploit Flash technology is to convince notoriously conservative enteprise storage customers to switch to SSDs.

Schaffer said that when talking to customers, he points to the significant performance jumps in servers when switching from traditional hard drive disks to SSDs, and greater efficiency in the storage area. The ability to increase performance while improving efficiency are particularly important given the current recession.

“[IT administrators] are under tight business constraints,” Schaffer said. “But nobody is saying, ‘Stop making data’ or ‘Stop running applications.’”

Industry observers also see a lot of promise in the Flash memory space. In June 2008—just months before the recession really kicked into gear—research firm IDC said the SSD space was a $400 million (£291m) market in 2007, and that revenues were destined to grow 70 percent between 2007 and 2012, and unit shipments by 76 percent during the same span.

The space continues to attract big names. Most recently, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak announced in February he is joining startup Fusion-io, which makes compact solid state storage arrays.

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