Sun calls for unity on SSD standards

Vendors need to work together, says Sun's flash memory head

Players in the solid-state drive industry need to unite and establish an umbrella organisation that establishes standards that define the technology, such as its performance, a Sun Microsystems executive says.

The SSD industry, while in its infancy, has organisations establishing separate standards around SSD metrics, and there is not enough work being done to standardise them, says Michael Cornwell, lead technologist for flash memory at Sun.

"We don't see a focus among suppliers and vendors like ourselves because everyone looks at their implementation [individually] rather than as an industry implementation," Cornwell says.

A standards organisation could help users measure SSDs and their applications, such as the performance of SSDs in comparison to hard drives, Cornwell says. SSDs have attracted criticism for being expensive while providing less storage compared to hard drives.

Price-per-gigabyte could continue to be a relative issue when comparing SSDs to hard drives, but SSDs are more about performance than price, Cornwell says. SSDs don't have the capacity of hard-disk drives, but they perform better in certain environments. SSDs could be more relevant for datacentres, for example, where they are comparatively faster and more power efficient than hard drives.

"The traditional storage market is completely focused on 'well, what's the cost-per gigabyte?' We look at 'what's the cost for meeting your performance metric' and design systems around that architecture rather than capacity," Cornwell says.

The SSD industry could use an organisation like IDEMA (International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association), an organisation that sets standards and guidelines for disk development, Cornwell says. IDEMA establishes industry standards and provides guidance on technology to vendors including heads and media in disk drives.

Without mentioning names, Cornwell says Sun is talking to other companies about the development of standards. Last month, Sun worked with Samsung to bump up the durability of SSDs, announcing the development of single-level cell flash chips capable of lasting 500,000 read/write cycles, higher than the 100,000 read-and-write cycles of earlier SLC-based flash memory.

A number of organisations developing SSD standards independently include T13, a committee for the International Committee on Information Technology Standards (INCITS), which defined standards for the ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) storage interface. Through standards organization JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council), Seagate and Micron are trying to establish some SSD standards, including the definition of form factors.

SSD adoption will be driven by Web 2.0 applications, Cornwell says. Web 2.0 applications mainly reside in datacentres, and distributed applications on SSDs in different nodes could deliver "phenomenal" performance, Cornwell says. For example, delivering cached photo content from an SSD may be quicker than getting it from a disk drive.

Sun has said it will include SSDs in storage products later this year.

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Tags standardssunsolid-state drivesmichael cornwell

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