Q&A: Fujitsu Exec says solid-state disk doesn't measure up

Hype about solid-state disk performance and power savings doesn't add up

While most major disk-drive manufacturers have developed or are already selling solid-state disk drives or hybrid drives, which use a combination of flash memory and spinning disk, Fujitsu has chosen not to develop a product for market. Joel Hagberg, Fujitsu's vice president of business development, said his company does not plan to launch any solid-state disk-drive products over the next two years because the value proposition of the technology is not compelling enough and won't be until technology breakthroughs change solid-state disk's performance and reliability.

What is Fujitsu's position on solid-state disk?

There is a place for flash. Right now, that's random-read performance, such as relational database look-ups, tables, etc. But the big question that's been posed to Fujitsu is why haven't we come out with a flash drive product, and what do we think about enterprise disk drives, because there are executives from companies in the Northeast claiming that enterprise disk drives will be dead within two years? I think that's definitely overstating the capability of solid state.

There's definitely a niche for flash, but how big is that niche and how quickly can solid-state disk manufacturers resolve the performance problems of solid state in sequential reads and writes as well as random writes is really a big gate to expand the market penetration of solid state.

What are the main performance problems with solid state?

If you talk to some of the executives of notebook manufacturers, pretty much over the past year and a half, two years, every manufacturer has launched a notebook with a solid-state disk drive. And, almost universally, there has been a customer-satisfaction issue because they're hyped for performance, and people get them and don't realize what [manufacturers] mean is [NAND] flash is really good if you're reading stuff, but it doesn't work very well for large file reads and large file writes, and it doesn't work well for random writes.

Unfortunately, with disk drives, you're going to do a lot of reading and writing and not just random reads. If you look at the last couple of years, there have been a lot of attempts to improve I/O performance in notebooks. One of those has been the advent of hybrid drives, and a second is solid-state drives themselves. But we've talked to a lot of major end users as well as a lot of major manufacturers of notebooks, and the statement is that while these drives promise a lot, they don't deliver a lot outside of benchmarks in real world performance.

We have people in our facility here that have taken solid-state drives, put them in notebooks and found out it doesn't boot any faster. The power savings are negligible because the power drain in a notebook is the screen, the CPU and DRAM. When the hard disk drive is not being written to or accessed, it actually goes into sleep mode most of the time where you're down to below a tenth of a watt in terms of write. So when you weigh battery life of a notebook [with a 5-hour battery life], solid state may get you 5 hours and 15 minutes, but it's not more than 5 per cent battery life improvement.

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