The latest advancements to hit solid-state drives are earning raves as a potential slayer of transaction latency, but the innovation also comes with a green thumb.

"A solid state drive has no moving parts. So it's using less power than a hard drive," says Joseph Unsworth, a research director for Gartner, who says hard drives spin hot - often at 15,000 RPMs. "Hard drives need to be cooled."

Firms such as Pliant - which is rolling out what it calls enterprise flash drives; and STEC - which has OEM agreements with EMC, HP, Sun Microsystems, Fujistu, Hitachi and IBM; Intel and other storage vendors are developing solutions to tap an early-stage market for advanced solid state drives designed to work across the enterprise. Prices for these vendors' solutions are generally set by resellers, and range between $15 to $30/gigabyte for a single drive.

"It's a very new market," says Gene Ruth, a senior storage analyst for the Burton Group. "But I consider solid state disks to be 'disruptive' in a good way. These disks perform up to 100 times faster and they can replace lots of hard disk drives."

For example, STEC is producing a multi level cell (MLC)-based drive called ZuesIOPS Solid State Drives, which are optimized to meet the demands of enterprise storage and server applications by using widely available MLC NAND flash components. STEC says it has designed and implemented flash controller technology and Flash management algorithms to achieve enterprise-grade performance and endurance that's superior to hard drives and consumer grade MLC solid state drives.

So far, there's been light but fast-growing bank deployments of these advanced drives. Unsworth says there's been some early activity in the U.S. and Europe, with about 59,000 units shipped in 2008 and about 281,000 units so far this year.

The sales pitch from suppliers usually starts with providing unfettered fast access to enterprise data to ensure transaction execution, but the discussion also quickly turns to energy savings. "With hard drives, you have to wait for the disk to spin around and move to find data," says Jeff Janukowicz, research manager at IDC. "Solid state drives allow you to find data faster, so latency is reduced and you get better performance. And solid state drives inherently consume less power."

Burton's Ruth says each solid state disk drive can replace as many as eight hard disk drives, which can save physical space and electricity use.

Greg Goelz, a vp at Pliant Technology, says the speed of an average hard drive is about 300 IOs per second, while the speed of his firm's enterprise flash drives - which are based on controller and design architecture that's designed to allow much higher performance than hard disk drives - is about 180,000 IOs per second.

Goelz says that for a bank system that executes about 640,000 transactions per minute, the hard drive rate requires about 1,000 drives using 8,000 watts to power and another 8,000 watts to cool. A hybrid drive approach would reduce the server count about 100, or 2,000 total watts. "One single solid state drive will do less than half of the power consumption of a rotating (hard drive)," he says, adding the firm is targeting banks that are using a high number of 15,000 RPM drives, or near the top speed for hard drives.

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