SSD adoption slow despite rising enterprise solid-state drive shipment

Adoption of enterprise solid-state drives (SSDs) soars from manufacturers to storage vendors, but user SSD adoption is slower; many users have no SSD plans.

While manufacturers have ramped up shipments of enterprise solid-state drives (SSDs) to storage and server vendors by more than 200% this year, end-user SSD adoption patterns have not shown such a clear upward trajectory.

A fall Storage Purchasing Intentions survey of 354 IT professionals at a mix of companies of different sizes, conducted by SearchStorage.com and Storage magazine, showed that just 14% use SSDs, mostly in storage arrays. Another 9% of those surveyed said they plan to implement them, and 33% are evaluating them. However, 44% have no SSD plans.

Those percentages reflect only a slight increase over results from the same survey conducted in the spring, when 10% of the 472 IT professionals who responded said they were using solid-state drives. Another 6% were planning to implement them, and 35% were evaluating them. But, 49% indicated they had no SSD plans.

When asked why they weren't implementing solid-state storage yet, the fall and spring respondents were consistent. Nearly two-thirds said solid-state storage is too expensive. Closer to a third said their hard-disk system performance was sufficient or they didn't know enough about solid-state storage.

"Adoption is definitely not rapid," said Marco Coulter, managing director of the storage practice at The InfoPro Inc., a New York City research firm. "The skeptics are stepping back from it and wanting to wait until someone has identified where the sweet spot is because that doesn't seem to be quite clear yet."

The InfoPro surveyed only Fortune 1000 companies about SSD adoption in storage arrays. Last year's fourth-quarter study showed that 53% of the 182 IT professionals interviewed indicated SSDs weren't in their plans. But the percentage increased to 57% in the second quarter of this year, when 148 Fortune 1000 companies participated in the interviews.

The InfoPro survey also found:

  • 16% had SSDs in use in storage arrays in Q2 2010 vs. 19% in Q4 2009
  • 6% were in pilot/evaluation in Q2 vs. 3% in Q4
  • 12% had SSDs in their near-term plans in Q2 vs. 7% in Q4
  • 8% had SSDs in their long-term plans in Q2 vs. 19% in Q4

While the results are hardly conclusive in terms of long-term trends, they do represent a break in the pattern that InfoPro typically sees when a technology is in its adoption phase.

"For people who are kicking the tires [with SSDs], it's slow but they are adopting it in the usual sort of way," Coulter observed. "For the people who weren't, we saw them grow and become more skeptical."

Coulter said one Fortune 1000 company that tested SSDs with online transaction processing (OLTP) workloads even noted a performance decline, rather than boost, with writes to the SSDs. Coulter said he could identify neither the company nor its industry due to confidentiality agreements.

Coulter said ongoing research shows most companies tend to decide by application rather than by performance profile what they're going put on SSDs because it's simpler. Once a company shifts a workload to SSDs, it tends to keep it there, without checking to see if the application still warrants the solid-state drives, he said.

Industry analysts expect automated tiering software -- which can move the most active data to SSDs -- to help drive SSD adoption, but the technology hasn't caught on yet, according to The InfoPro's research. Coulter said he has found only a few companies in the beta cycle and none that have switched on automated tiering in a production environment.

"The vendors aren't necessarily giving them the default settings of 'Here's how you do it for this application or that application' to help them out in this area," said he added.

Meanwhile, the growth pattern is healthy for shipments of enterprise SSDs to storage and server vendors. Unit shipments grew 245% year over year, from 88,000 in the first half of 2009 to 304,000 in the first half of this year, according to Jeff Janukowicz, a research director in the storage group at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

"We've seen an extremely steady ramp from really the late half of 2008 through 2009, where basically every quarter we're seeing a sequential increase of unit shipments," Janukowicz said. "A lot more of the array vendors who had talked about integrating SSDs maybe a year ago have actually integrated SSDs now and [made them] available to end customers."

But while the percentage growth is high, the unit shipments of SSDs pale in comparison with shipments of enterprise-class hard disk drives (HDDs), which totaled 14.8 million in the first half of this year, according to Janukowicz.

"We're still talking orders-of-magnitude difference," he said.

Solid-state appliances represent an even smaller portion of the market. Unit shipments totaled 466 in the first half of this year, Janukowicz said. Revenue was $18 million in the first half of 2009 and $35 million in the first half of this year, he said.

This was first published in December 2010

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